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We recently received a call from one of our vendors. They wanted to let us know that one of our current employees had applied for a job opening at their company.

Was it unethical for the vendor to notify us?

  • 4
    Some employment contacts state that you agree to not find a job at a vendor; maybe they wanted to let you know that, so that you could start a legal action against the employee if it's the case. Or something. In any case, it's weird. – Alexandre Vaillancourt May 13 '16 at 21:08
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    There may be legitimate reasons they want to give you a heads up. May be, they're feeling the water to see if they could hire him away from you without upsetting you and without losing your business. May be, they're afraid that this employee is a key liaison between you and their company. And may be, his contract stipulates that he can not go work for your vendors. That being said, if none of those reasons are valid, I'd say "yes", this is unethical. If they betrayed him, think of what they will do to you if you need to do the same one day. I'd say drop them as a vendor if that's the case. – Stephan Branczyk May 13 '16 at 21:16
57

Yes, it's always unethical to contact the current employer without permission. It's universally understood that you don't alert a candidate's current employer to the fact that their employee is job searching. The reasons are obvious and compelling. Virtually every manager with hiring experience will understand this and only a select few incompetent managers will breach this convention. Those few are also typically poor at hiring good people because doing this is a huge red flag and high performers have options and will usually self-select out after a stunt like this.

Now, if two companies have an existing relationship, then it's reasonable for the hiring company to alert the candidate's current company before extending an offer. In most situations this would be necessary as a courtesy and to "preserve the peace". Long-term contracts will typically have clauses covering this scenario. Consulting contracts always will. Some companies won't hire each other's employees, consulting companies will require a placement fee, some companies with close ties look favourably on this.

So basically, there's no way for the employee in this situation to proceed in the hiring process without his current employer being notified. But that's the thing: he could also withdraw. In this situation the hiring manager should have simply explained to the candidate that given the existing relationship, he would have to get approval of the move before proceeding with his application. At the point it's up to the candidate to give permission, and ideally to alert his employer himself, or to withdraw from consideration.

To summarise: it's unethical to alert the current employer as it jeopardises the candidate's job. It's unethical for the candidate or hiring company to keep the current company in the dark. At some point in the hiring process, the hiring company or candidate will have to disclose to the current employer that he applied for a job with a company that they have a business relationship with. When that disclosure happens will depend on a number of factors such as the level of the position and how likely the original company is to (dis)approve.

The point of the disclosure is not to alert the employer that an employee is looking to leave (which is an internal issue) but that it's bad form to secretly hire people away from a company you do business with. While doing so without "permission" is not illegal or doesn't breach a contract in most cases, it can seriously damage the business relationship.

  • 1
    Note that there can be significant legal problems (in the US anyway) with blanket policies not to hire each other's employees or not to recruit from other companies in the same industry. This led to a federal lawsuit and a rather large settlement in the case of several large tech companies in California. The relationship between a company and its vendor is different naturally, but there are broader recruiting policies that serve to restrict the labor market, legal advice is certainly advisable. – Zach Lipton May 14 '16 at 0:27
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    "Yes, it's always unethical to contact the current employer without permission." Your counter point contradicts the "always" in that statement. In fact I would say it's unethical for the vendor not to notify it's customer. The contact point is valid too, I can't remember the last time I worked for someone with out a non-compete clause. – coteyr May 14 '16 at 3:42
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    @coteyr isn't a non-compete your (the employee's) responsibility? I'm always asked if I'm subject to one, in which case I would think the employer had done their due diligence if I don't authorize them to contact my current (or previous) employer(s). – Raystafarian May 14 '16 at 7:16
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    @coteyr I've adjusted the wording to clarify my take on this. I agree that it would be unethical for the vendor not to alert the original employer if they're seriously considering hiring the candidate. But if the candidate withdraws because he doesn't want to disclose that he's job searching it would be incredibly unfair for the vendor to still notify them. The point is not that someone's looking to leave (which is an internal issue) but that it's bad form to hire people away from a company you do business with. – Lilienthal May 14 '16 at 13:27
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    @coteyr It doesn't contradict it. The permission part is very important. – Mast May 14 '16 at 14:46
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Frankly, the guy should have minded his own business. I don't think the correct here is "unethical", but it was certainly in very poor taste.

People switch jobs due to various reasons. All of us have - at one point or another - been in the situation of smiling and nodding to our bosses while secretly feeling dissatisfied in some way, and looking for new employment.

Thus, for this guy to seemingly take it upon himself to punish someone for applying for a job is ... low.


I'm leaving my original answer up, because that is my opinion in most situations of this type. However, having read your linked question, my opinion has changed.

This Brent person sounds like a severely dissatisfied individual. You asked how you might make him see the light. The answer is you can't. He simply has something against you, personally. That's too bad, but it's time to let it go.

As far as the other employer calling your boss, his actions are now understandable. If he truly is friends with your boss then simply hiring one of your employees might come across as sniping people your boss has trained, and it could strain their relationship.

Had it been someone who was not personally acquainted with your boss the situation would have been different.

  • 1
    I'd say it is highly unethical. He could potentially have gotten someone fired before they line another job up. This person may be financially strapped, have children to feed, etc. – Andrew Whatever May 13 '16 at 21:28
  • I agree with the edit - knowing the context of the Brent situation changes my perspective of this question also. I was going to reply that it was probably unethical until reading your edit and realizing it was the same OP – Nikki9696 May 13 '16 at 21:38
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    I'd say it was pretty dim of this guy to apply with a vendor, whether or not he knew the vendor was friends with the boss. People talk, and letting anyone with a direct connection with your company know in any way that you're looking for a job is asking for it. – Amy Blankenship May 13 '16 at 21:56
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    This is a vendor, not just a friend. All vendors should notify their customers if there going to be taking their talent. In fact as a vendor, I would not even hire the guy without some kind of written "permission" from my customer to do so. There is no way I would risk loosing a customer to hire an employee. – coteyr May 14 '16 at 3:44
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Was it unethical for the vendor to notify us?

Not necessarily.

A vendor-customer relationship is important. A vendor wouldn't want a customer to think they were poaching the customer's clients.

It's a tricky situation for a vendor to be put in the middle like this. I've worked on both sides of this situation and I can't say it surprises me at all that the vendor would choose their relationship with the customer over a job applicant.

It seems reasonable to me for a vendor to call the customer and say something like "I wanted to let you know that one of your employees has applied for a position with out company. Before we decide whether to interview or not, we wanted to let you know that we didn't solicit this individual, and to ask you if it would be okay to continue?"

It would be less okay if they simply said "Hey, your guy Jim Smith just applied for a job with us."

To be honest, I'm surprised that the company employee (Brent?) applied for a job with the vendor without first obtaining a promise of secrecy. Bad move on his/her part.

  • 2
    100% agree, this is a vendor and customer relationship, not just two random companies. – coteyr May 14 '16 at 3:46
  • Maybe Brent did, and the vendor violated the promise? – Andrew Grimm May 15 '16 at 1:00
  • @JoeStrazzere Would the OP know whether the employee obtained a promise of secrecy? – Andrew Grimm May 16 '16 at 4:14
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Many companies establish "non-compete" agreements with their suppliers/vendors in order to avoid "inside" information being used to recruit good employees after you get to know them. Most of these agreements permit individuals, acting on their own, to seek their own employment where they want, including at the vendor company, but prevent the companies from actively recruiting each others' employees.

It is very possible that the person who contacted you was trying to be completely transparent so your company won't have any reason to suspect a breach of the agreement. If this is the case, then the behavior is more along the lines "ethical to an extreme."

  • In a 40+ year career, I've never run into a situation where "non-compete" applied to a vendor/customer relationship. How commonly do they "compete"? – user2338816 May 14 '16 at 7:58
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    @user2338816 I've seen such clauses in person where a company outsourced large parts of IT development to a specialized IT company while having significant internal staff (100+ people) working closely with them; the outsourcing contract specified that neither company will hire ex-IT-employees of other within the first year after leaving. Without that clause, there would have been "poaching" of employees from both sides at multiple times during the project, the desire was there, and that contract part was considered by management as important to the continued outsourcing relationship. – Peteris May 14 '16 at 10:58
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    Some silicon valley companies have recently been fined several hundred million dollars for that kind of non-compete agreement. – gnasher729 May 14 '16 at 11:44
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    @user2338816 When the vendor is supplying skilled people, as in the case of a company outsourcing their work, or hiring contractors, it is very common. When the agreement is limited to not recruiting from each other, it is fine. It is when the agreement is to not hire from each other, as in the recent cases in Silicon Valley, then it becomes a problem, as it prevents anyone from seeking greener pastures for themselves. – Kent A. May 14 '16 at 12:20
  • Ah, "vendor" in that sense seems reasonable. It's just not the label I've noticed being used for that relationship though it makes sense now. – user2338816 May 15 '16 at 8:48

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