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Is it Illegal for Recruiters to Poach Professionals from Employers?

by Stacy Pursell, CPC, CERS

The VET Recruiter®

Last month, I broached the subject of whether it’s illegal and/or unethical for a recruiter to contact professionals while they’re at work. If you read the article, then you know that the answer to that question is an emphatic “No!”

However, there is another question that I’d like to tackle, because there seems to be some confusion as of late about this subject, as well. And the subject is represented by the title above: is it illegal for recruiters to recruit (or as it is sometimes called “poach”) professionals from employers?

As I did in the previous article, I’d like to present a “spoiler alert.” The answer to this question is the same as before: “No, it is not illegal nor unethical for recruiters to poach professionals from employers.” In fact, as I will explain shortly, that it is actually illegal to tell another company or recruiter to NOT poach professionals.

However, I want to explain that I understand where the confusion surrounding this subject originates, especially within the Veterinary profession. The unemployment rate in the profession has been hovering right around 1% for nearly two years now. It is extremely difficult for veterinary practice owners to find suitable candidates for their organization’s open positions. No one understands that more than me, and so I also understand that it might be frustrating for employers when an Animal Health recruiter or Veterinary recruiter calls their employees.

As I did in my previous article, I’d like to reference a passage from a book titled The Recruiter is Your Friend: This Ain’t Your Granddaddy’s Job Search by Kristen M. Hallows. I’m referencing this passage again because it’s just as applicable for Animal Health and Veterinary employers as it is for professionals. The passage is as follows:

“Unlike a military raid, recruiters don’t take hostages; they simply offer better opportunities for potential candidates to consider. Employees are not owned; they choose what is best for them and their families. If they opt to take advantage of a new opportunity, the shame should not be on the recruiter, but rather on the former employer for taking them for granted and not insuring that the best opportunity was being delivered!”

What’s the bottom line with this passage? Simply put, no one steals employees. To use an analogy that I’ve used before, no one walks into an organization, knocks an employee unconscious, stuffs that employee into a large duffel bag, and then drags them across the street to work for another employer. A recruiter does not force people to work for another organization. All they do is present an employment opportunity to them. It is up to the person whether or not they want to consider the opportunity, and ultimately, to pursue it.

Now, you might be saying to yourself, “Hey, that’s just her opinion, and it’s probably the opinion of every recruiter who works in the employment marketplace.”

It’s more than just opinion, it’s a fact, and allow me to explain why that’s the case. The Anti-Trust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice investigates no-poach and wage-fixing agreements between employers. These agreements are deemed to be illegal because they rob employees of labor market competition. This, in turn, deprives them of job opportunities, information, and the ability to use competing offers to negotiate better terms of employment. And I took those words right from the Department of Justice website. (Click here to read the full article on the website.)

In fact, large Silicon Valley technology companies had to shell out $415 million a few years ago to put to rest an anti-poaching civil lawsuit. That lawsuit, which was filed by former employees, accused the companies of conspiring not to hire each other’s workers. So when recruiters call professionals about employment opportunities, that’s not frowned upon by the U.S. Department of Justice. It’s practically encouraged!

That pretty much settles the question of whether or not poaching is illegal. However, what about the question of whether it’s ethical? It might not be surprising to find out the answer is exactly the same, and the reasoning and rationale are iron-clad. Basically, the same reasons that the practice is not illegal are the same reasons that it is also not unethical. That’s because since:

  • Robbing employees of labor market competition is illegal, it is also unethical.
  • Depriving employees of job opportunities, information, and the ability to use competing offers to negotiate better terms of employment is illegal, it is also unethical.

There are often cases in which something is legal, but not entirely ethical. That is not the case with poaching professionals. According to the Anti-Trust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, no-poach and wage-fixing agreements are NOT legal. When viewed within this context, you could say that the U.S. Department of Justice has no problem whatsoever with recruiters poaching professionals from employers. At the very least, not allowing professionals to engage in labor market competition and not giving them access to job opportunities and information is illegal.

And this is exactly what recruiters and search consultants do: they provide access to job opportunities and provide information to professionals so those professionals can engage in labor market competition to improve their employment situation. In short, they do exactly what U.S. Department of Justice wants them to do.

But once again, I understand the point of view of the Animal Health hiring manager and the Veterinary practice manager or practice owner. The problem is that everybody wants to hire the best candidates and retain the best candidates. Recruiters can help you to hire the best candidates, while the matter of retention is largely up to you and your organization.

However, I must point out that in addition to being a Certified Personnel Consultant (CPC), I’m also one of less than 50 search consultants who are a Certified Employee Retention Specialist (CERS). I hold this certification because I want to help our firm’s clients become better at retaining employees so they can have a competitive advantage.

If your Animal Health organization or Veterinary practice needs help hiring and/or retaining the best talent in the marketplace, I encourage you to contact our firm.

We help support careers in one of two ways: 1.By helping Animal Health and Veterinary professionals to find the right opportunity when the time is right, and 2.By helping to recruit top talent for the critical needs of Animal Health and Veterinary organizations. If this is something that you would like to explore further, please send an email to stacy@thevetrecruiter.com.

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