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I recently received a job offer as outside sales for a company that is in the same market as the one I am currently employed with. Due to the book of business I currently have (my list of my clients, contacts, leads etc.), they have requested I go through my client list with them to see crossover potential.

How do I protect myself but at the same time not appear to be difficult? I am a team player, but without a contract being signed with them am unsure that handing them a client list is in my best interest.

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    You have plenty of suggestions to say you shouldn't divulge the information, which IMO is correct, however one of the reasons they may be doing this is to test your moral fibre. Because let's face it, if you were happy to share your current employers details, then it's fair to say you would also be happy to share their details with other people too. If you did share the details it would be win-win for them. They get your info, and they don't hire you for being unreliable. – Jamie Barker Aug 11 '15 at 9:56
  • Why don't you show me your book and I'll let you know of cross contacts? This company is a team player right? – WernerCD Aug 12 '15 at 4:15
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    Just be up front and honest about it. The employer will understand. "Unfortunately, that information is confidential. I can't provide any specific information about my clients." – bwDraco Aug 12 '15 at 12:13
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    What's difficult about saying "No. Your ethics are bad and you should feel bad"? – Rob Moir Aug 12 '15 at 19:59
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    It's not apparent that accepting the job is conditional on showing them the book (though as unethical as the new company is, it might). I think its admirable that the OP wishes to take a stand, but yes, they may need to walk away from the job. It would be enough of a red flag to do so already at this point for me. – Rob Moir Aug 14 '15 at 9:14
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they have requested I go through my client list with them to see crossover potential. How do I protect myself but at the same time not appear to be difficult? I am a team player, but without a contract being signed with them am unsure that handing them a client list is in my best interest.

There is no way I would give a client list from my current employer to a company with whom I am not employed.

First, your current contract may prohibit such a move.

And second, even if it isn't prohibited by your contract you simply cannot give away a valuable asset to someone who may or may not become your employer.

Ignoring the ethicality (or lack of ethicality) in this situation, you shouldn't give any clients' information to a non-employer.

You could offer to go through your list on your own, match it up with their list, and give them a number of clients that might potentially become their client. No names, just the count of clients. And on your own, not "with them". Perhaps they would like to give away their client list to someone who isn't yet an employee, perhaps not. (I suspect not.)

If your current contract allows, you could suggest that the client names would of course follow, once you are hired.

Depending on your current contract, and the norms within your industry and your locale, you need to decide if this is ethical, and if not, if this is the kind of company you would want to work for. It smells foul to me, but I understand in some domains this is rather common practice.

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    Would the answer really be any different if he was already employed by the company? Can't the company just fire him after he goes over the clients...? – Mehrdad Aug 11 '15 at 6:27
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    Well, if company C finds out that A is client of B, what can happen is that Company C goes after A and get its business. That can result in the OP getting fired from B, either for economical reasons, or because it was discovered how C found out... – Puzzled Aug 11 '15 at 7:00
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    In most jurisdictions, there is an implied general duty not to act against the interest of your employer. E.g. in German law, there is the crime of "Untreue", in UK/USA I think the terms are "duty of fidelity" and "breach of trust". So even if there is nothing in your contract, you may expose yourself to lawsuits if you divulge information your employer wants to keep private. – sleske Aug 11 '15 at 9:01
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    I disagree with even giving them partial information. I'd just tell them that out of respect for your current employer, you have to decline their request. If that causes some sort of fallout, so be it, because why would you want to work for a place that either can't see why that request is a problem, or thinks it can take advantage of job seekers? – Kai Aug 11 '15 at 16:27
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    I would assume that handing over this information would be a firing offense, that it might be criminal (if the information is deemed a trade secret), that there is likely something in the employment contract making it illegal even after quitting, and that a company asking you for that information might take the information, then laugh in your face and tell you to try to find a job elsewhere. – gnasher729 Aug 15 '15 at 19:26
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Without a signed contract I would absolutely not be handing anything over to your new employer. You also need to look at your termination clauses in your existing contract to see if there are any restrictions on taking your client list with you.

I would strongly urge you to check the restrictions first, then you can say something to your prospective employer along the lines of:

I'm not trying to be difficult, but unless I have a signed contract then I can't really discuss my current client base. According to my contract with my existing employer, I also have [x] restrictions placed on what information I can release to a competitor.

We can discuss any potential leads when I get started and look at following them up.

Really, if you have a future employer who is putting you in this position then I would question if it's you they're after or merely your client list.

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    Thank you so much for your quick response. I actually had the exact thoughts when I was asked about it. I have definitely already checked into my current contract restrictions as well as having a lawyer comb through everything to be on the safe side. – Motivated Aug 10 '15 at 23:59
  • Excellent. Glad you have prepared well :) – Jane S Aug 11 '15 at 0:01
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    @Mehrdad I'd be asking a lawyer that question if there is any confusion. – Jane S Aug 11 '15 at 6:29
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    @Mehrdad IANAL but I'm sure you can also be sued over violating (some of) the terms of your contract, at-will or not. – Dukeling Aug 11 '15 at 13:12
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    @Mehrdad - I'm also not a lawyer, but all "at-will" means is that you can terminate the contract at any time. But as soon as you do so, you lose the right to access any data you had access to as an employee, because you aren't an employee. So the terms of the contract (and its separation clauses) are definitely relevant, but the "at-will-ness" of it is not. You can choose to be covered by the "current employee" part or the "departed employee" part, but not to not be covered at all. – Bobson Aug 11 '15 at 18:50
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The other answers already explain that divulging your client list may break your employment contract. However, there may be complications even if your contract does not explicitly forbid it.

In most jurisdictions, there is an implied general duty not to act against the interest of your employer. E.g. in German law, there is the crime of "Untreue" (literally "unfaithfulness"), in UK/USA I think the terms are "duty of fidelity" and "breach of trust".

So even if there is nothing in your contract, you may expose yourself to lawsuits if you divulge information your employer wants to keep private.

Note that this duty generally extends even after the end of your contract, possibly indefinitely (details vary). So even after you have signed on with the new employer, your old employer could possibly sue you if you divulge information.


So unless you can be reasonably certain that giving out the information is legal, you should probably err on the side of caution and explain that you are both morally and legally required to keep the information private.

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