“Poaching” Employees

At a recent business mixer, the topic of stealing away an employee from a competitor was hotly debated. Is swiping talent legal? Is it ethical? I’m torn. What’s your take on employee poaching, Anita?

PoacherDear “Open Season,”

You’re asking someone in the recruiting business?! Well, I’ll try to be unbiased.

Is poaching ethical? Hiring someone who is already employed in your line of business or industry pretty much goes without saying, when it comes right down to brass tacks. I think the biggest definer of poaching is who is reaching out to whom. If you are posting an ad, and a competitor’s hot-shot performer applies, you’re totally in the clear. If, however, you approach said hot-shot, that could be considered unscrupulous by some (particularly the star performer’s current employer). I counter that it’s an employer’s obligation to keep employees so happy that they wouldn’t even consider working elsewhere.

There are also some highly specialized professions with such a small talent pool that there is no choice but to poach from competitors.

Is it legal for companies to hire away talented personnel from rivals? There are circumstances where poaching could get an employer in legal hot water, depending on your state’s laws. Higher-level employees with non-compete agreements or nondisclosure of trade secrets clauses may come with a risk to your company. Interestingly, Adobe, Apple, Google, Intel and other tech giants got in trouble for the opposite of poaching when they agreed to suppress wages by not actively recruiting each other’s employees.

If you’re worried, you can distance yourself by hiring a recruiting firm; these companies know the subtle yet effective ways to reach out to employed candidates not actively seeking a new job who may be a perfect fit for your open position. If you just want a zero-drama life, institute a no-poaching rule, and hope that the competition doesn’t headhunt on your turf.

Managers: What’s your policy on poaching personnel?

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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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