A competitor has been stealing employees from my company. We are partners, but we have recently undergone a rough patch while they are growing massively. About 8 of our former employees now work there, in some cases it is evident that 2 weeks notice was not offered when they left us.

I suspect that they are illegally poaching specific persons, either in breach of poaching laws or in breach of our partnership.

A coworker admitted to being approached by them two weeks ago. Today he has accepted a job offer, which he accessed using a work computer and printed on a work printer. In front of me, he secure deleted the job offer on his computer. He also mentioned 'cleaning up' other information from his work computer. Our employee contract involved a non-compete agreement, which I suspect is enforceable in the state of Georgia (where both companies reside).

I respect both the coworker and my company, especially my company's CEO. I am a junior employee that the CEO took a risk on hiring, and he has always treated me well.

Should I report what I suspect to be illegal behavior?

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    This question's answers can only be valid with a legal opinion. That makes this question off topic. I am sure this is a real problem for you but this is not the QA that has the answers to help you. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 18 '13 at 19:49
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    @Chad I highly disagree... he is asking if he should report what he suspects might be illegal behavior, not necessarily if the behavior is illegal or not. – maple_shaft Mar 18 '13 at 19:52
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    Exactly what 'illegal' behaviour are you talking about? The accepting a job offer or the use of company printers? If the former - then the company is going to find out about it very soon. If the latter, pretty much the worst thing the company could do is fire the employee, which is going to be irrelevant in a couple of days anyway. – DJClayworth Mar 18 '13 at 20:01
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    If the employee has resigned, then the company is already in possession of all the facts it needs to decide if it will try to enforce any non-compete agreement. There is nothing useful for you to add. You might usefully spend your time wondering why eight people from your company have jumped ship, and what that says about your company and the competition. – DJClayworth Mar 18 '13 at 20:42
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    The OP does not ask for a 'legal opinion'. He stipulates he thinks there may be a legal issue here. He asks "Should I report what I suspect to be illegal behavior?". This is 100% a 'workplace' question. Does he keep his head down to avoid making enemies? Does he report his suspicions to management, or even the police? A lawyer can't answer those questions. – Jim In Texas Mar 19 '13 at 1:40

It is best thing to do in situations like this to just play dumb. The reason for this is strategic of course.

  • The only person who stands to gain is the CEO here

  • It is not part of your work responsibilities as you are not in management

  • Calling attention to the potential problem inevitably calls attention to yourself.

  • By calling it out you make things more difficult if you happen to get an amazing offer from the competing company.

Management is not dumb. If the heads on the ground can see it then they can see what is going on too.

On an unrelated note:

I am a junior employee that the CEO took a risk on hiring, and he has always treated me well.

Management likes to feel like they are doing you a special favor by hiring you, and that you implicitly "owe them" your gratitude. This is emotional manipulation at its finest. They paid you the agreed salary and you provided them your services for that salary. There is no other pact or bond tying you to this CEO because I promise you that same loyalty doesn't go the other way if they realize they are better off not paying you. Why then shouldn't it go the same way with you, if you find you are significantly better off by leaving?

Really the only thing binding you and others to this employer is your No-Compete clause which may or may not be enforceable where you live. Before entertaining such an offer yourself I suggest a consultation with a lawyer who specializes in employment law to get an idea of the real risk you or your colleagues may face by working for the other company in violation of the No-Compete clause.

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    "The only person" - Him and the company, and maybe OP. "Calling attention" - Not necessarily bad attention, it shows loyalty, no? "Management is not dumb" - no, but that doesn't mean they are all-seeing (but 8 employees is a lot to not see). "emotional manipulation" - either that or the CEO actually did do OP a favour. – Bernhard Barker Mar 18 '13 at 20:10
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    OK, but I really do have an ethical reason to favor the CEO. He hired me based upon the advice of a friend, hired me out of high school when most employees have college degrees, and has given me a high rate of return. – user8251 Mar 18 '13 at 20:19
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    Do not confuse "took a chance on me" with "will be loyal to me no matter what." If the company faces financial hardship and letting you go will save enough money to keep the company afloat, you will find yourself looking for a new job. There is very little place for unwavering loyalty to the company in the market anymore. – alroc Mar 19 '13 at 0:51

The use of the employer's computer and printer is a red herring. All it really brings to the conversation is that you are 100% sure he got an offer and accepted it, and that you're pretty sure management can't find this out for themselves. (You may be wrong: many firms log email including body and attachments, and the fact that it was deleted in a local mailbox means nothing.)

The illegality, should some be happening, is by the poaching company. If you became aware that members of the company you work for were breaking the law, and opening the company to risk, you might have an obligation to tell your management about it. Say someone tells you he prefers to drive home drunk in the company car instead of his own car, because if he gets in a crash at least his personal car will not be wrecked. You should tell someone about that. But this is more like learning that an employee of your competition likes to drive drunk. You don't need to tell your boss about it. If there's some third party you could tell, you might, but I would tread carefully with that (see below.)

What is left then? Well you might want to let your boss know that someone is behaving unfairly and causing him damage by stealing his people. But before you do, consider:

  • are you sure he doesn't know? If you know, what are the chances he doesn't? It might be a little offensive for you to come and tell him this hot news, suggesting he didn't know.
  • are you sure it's a problem for him? There's a relationship between the companies, one is doing better than the other, and people are switching sides: maybe the two companies agreed to this instead of a layoff? Maybe it wasn't his idea, but he doesn't mind, because it's reducing the salary burden during this low spot? Again, it's a bit presumptuous to imply that he needs your help on this matter. He knows things you don't.

If you're convinced that you must tell your CEO to protect the company, and that the company would be hurt if you didn't, consider setting up a throwaway email on gmail or the like, that you never access from a work computer or through work wifi on a personal device. Email the CEO and explain you want to stay anonymous but you wanted him to know what's going on. Don't mention non competes or notice or any of that - the CEO is perfectly capable of determining what notice was given and what agreements were signed. You might get a reply or you might not, but you won't have hurt your own prospects by embarrassing or offending the CEO with your "hot news."

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    +1 for anonymous e-mail suggestion (and the practical implementation). – Bernhard Barker Mar 18 '13 at 20:21
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    Also don't access that email from a home network if you access any work systems or email from home or use your work phone on your wifi. It would be easy to make the connection. – Grant Mar 20 '13 at 3:17

If you are struggling, you will lose employees. Employees' first priorities are to meet the needs of themselves and their families. If you show signs of weakness, they are bound to look elsewhere.

You will find more solutions by building a solid foundation in your business than you will in trying to keep people from leaking out through the cracks.

Also, you can have a business with 3 people, or even 1 person and be successful. More employees is not a measurement of success. You can really fool yourself with that.

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