Can you “steal” an account from a former employer?

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Can you “steal” an account from a former employer?

My fiance was working for a cleaning company. She handled 2 accounts for them in another city where we live over 45 miles away. She loved the work but had problems with the company servicing the account. She has since quit and we have started our own cleaning service in our city. We have 2 accounts currently. Would there be any legal problems with requesting a reference from the facility she cleaned for her previous employer as well as providing them with a bid for our services? She was never required to sign a non-compete agreement with her former employer.

Asked on February 12, 2012 under Employment Labor Law, Indiana

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

Can you request a reference from the facility? Yes--as long as she did not sign any agreement precluding or prohibiting this, which apparently she did not. The law does not, in the absence of an agreement, forbid someone from seeking a reference from anyone they did work for.

Can you provide a bid to that facility? Possibly not. Even in the absence of an agreement to the contrary, it is often illegal to use information which you obtained only by dint of employment for your own benefit and to the employer's detriment. Since presumably, your fiance only knows about that customer due to her employment, using that proprietary knowledge to try to take the account away could give rise to liability. Even if it were ultimately found that what she did was not wrongful, there is a good chance she could find herself threatened with or involved in litigation, which would not be to her interest.


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