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TLDR

A company that provides services to us, approached an employee and offered them a job. The employee accepted the job.

Background

I run a tech services and conservation NPO. We're knee deep in a growth stage, have 10+ clients waitlisted and have developed impressive relations with our market leader that could lead to exposure of our work and our partners technology to 5M people a year through museum exhibits.

A technology company that makes the tools we use donated a large amount of technology and tech support, since we are opening a large market for them and I think they believe in our mission... though I think the money is a big part of it.

One of my key employees was talking with their customer service to get some help with tools we are using for a client project and they offered her a job, then we were at the company for a conference and on our bill they interviewed and hired her behind my back. I doubt the people higher up that I work with know about it, it's a large company.

I understand it's a competitive job market and we can't offer the security or salary of private sector companies now, but this seems pretty dirty.

Question

Is it unethical, or just an uncool thing they did? How can I not trust that their customer service will not do this again? Cover it in our contracts better? If not, do you recommend we switch technology platforms to avoid this happening again?

I know keeping a level head is important in this, since we have had good relationship.

closed as off-topic by Dukeling, gnat, scaaahu, rath, Mister Positive Feb 5 '18 at 17:07

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    You should probably speak to a lawyer if you'd like help creating contracts to avoid having this happen again. – Dukeling Feb 4 '18 at 18:50
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    You will either have to propose a non-solicitation clause to your partner or a non-compete clause to your employees. Are you sure it is worth the cost? From what you said it does not seem to be the case. – Adam Smith Feb 4 '18 at 21:17
  • What do you mean by "on our bill"? – Glen Pierce Feb 5 '18 at 15:47
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    Apple, google and some others were given a fine of several hundred million dollars for agreeing not to poach employees. Now would you like an agreement with your service provider not to poach employees? – gnasher729 Feb 5 '18 at 16:39
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    @GlenPierce While the OP was visiting the vendor for meetings, they interviewed the colleague. The colleague may have been at the vendor site; thus her company paid the travel costs for her to have an interview. – mkennedy Feb 5 '18 at 20:22
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It is my understanding that this company is not a competitor of yours and that there were no violations of any contracts.

The best thing to do here is give your employees a workplace and compensation structure that makes them want to stay.

Do you know why this key employee left? Was it higher salary? Better benefits? Shorter commute? More responsibility? Try to find out what your staff wants and give it to them.

Does your company offer competitive salaries? Regular feedback? Transparent, frequent, and regular employee reviews? Do you have a good corporate culture?

You could try and solve this with potentially unenforceable contracts between your company and its employees, including clauses against working at compitetors or entities they met through their work. That will probably backfire as smart employees will either decide not to work with you in the first place, or recognize that such contracts are mostly meaningless. The nature of what those agreements can cover depends on your location.

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IANAL (I Am Not A Lawyer)

A non-compete contract with the employee would not work as you don't compete with the service provider.

I think you could specify a clause in the contract with the service provide that they pay you $X if they hire any of your employees. This is common with consulting agencies.

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There is literally nothing wrong here.

First a digression, to paint a picture:

The company donated tech services to you. They did this because they want something in return - you have assumed it is to see an uptake in cultural spread.

While this is possibly part of the case, another part will be because the company needs paying customers - I suspect that you represent some sort of social-impact funded thing. As a result, your concerns and metrics for success are cultural spread, whereas the company has revenue streams as its main criteria.

Now the answer So you need to understand the issue from the company's point of view - they are concerned mostly with generating revenue. If they find one of your staff is capable of doing that, then it is within their remit to hire that staff member. As they are not focused on your core priority, it is not a problem to them that doing so may set you back.

You need to work out if you can replace their (free) technology and capably carry out your mission, and at the same time do so at a lower cost than the cost of finding/training any employees they poach. Consider, effectively, that a cost for using this company will be the occasional loss of employee, and the monetary cost therein for replacing them.

You can also manage this issue - you can only have employees liaise with them that they are unlikely to want to hire, for example. Or you can have employees liaise with them through a third intermediary (some sort of non-technical person, who acts as a middle man and who is paid very little and requires no skills/training aside from your native tongue). Again, the cost of doing this needs to be weighed against the cost of not.

Given you have free technology & resources, and your company, as a (assumed) social venture has little monetary resources, I think you are best ignoring this issue, and not letting it effect your relations with the tech company.

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