Solicitation: The Risk of Taking Clients from a Previous Employer

Solicitation: The Risk of Taking Clients from a Previous Employer

In the competitive world of business, the relationships you cultivate with clients are often among your most valuable assets. However, what happens when you decide to leave your current employer and take those client relationships with you to your next venture? This seemingly innocuous action, known as solicitation, can carry significant legal risks and ethical implications.

“Solicitation: The Risk of Taking Clients from a Previous Employer” looks at the complexities surrounding client solicitation in the business world. We’ll explore the legal considerations, potential consequences, and best practices when navigating the fine line between building your career and respecting contractual and ethical boundaries.

As professionals in Ontario’s intricate legal landscape, we understand the importance of clarity and compliance when it comes to client solicitation. Whether you’re an employee contemplating a career move, an employer looking to protect your client base, or a legal enthusiast seeking insights into this intriguing topic, this article is your guide to understanding the risks and responsibilities involved in client solicitation.

Enjoy this article through the legal nuances of solicitation, and gain a deeper understanding of how to navigate this challenging terrain while safeguarding your professional reputation and legal standing.

What is Solicitation?

In Ontario, “solicitation” in the context of employment law occurs when an ex-employee intentionally “persuades” previous clients, suppliers, vendors, other employees, or other affiliates of their former employer to work with them and/or their new employer instead.

Whether an employee is soliciting or not is a fact-specific analysis, but the ordinary definition applies to any given situation. A former employer has to prove their former employee expressly communicated with a client to solicit them or otherwise took steps to solicit the client indirectly. It is generally not solicitation if a client of the former employer leaves with them of their own volition.

During the course of employment, solicitation is generally a breach of an employee’s implied duties owed to their employer as a part of the employment relationship. However, whether it is legal for an employee to take clients from a previous employer after the end of the employment relationship will depend on the unique circumstances.

If there is an enforceable and reasonable “non-solicitation” agreement or written contractual term restricting the employee from soliciting from their employer even after the end of employment, then the employer can sue the employee to hold them accountable. Non-solicitation agreements and provisions prohibiting a former employee from soliciting their former employer’s clients 6 to 12 months in length and covering a localized geographic area are typically enforceable.

Less commonly, if an employee owes their employer a “fiduciary duty,” they may have an implied obligation to avoid soliciting their former employer’s clients after the end of the employment relationship. It is typically employees who have access to significant information relating to their employer’s business and are involved in strategic decision-making that are determined to be fiduciaries. Common examples include directors, senior management, and executive officers.

Employees held to be fiduciaries are typically obligated to refrain from either soliciting their former employer’s clients or otherwise competing with their employer for a reasonable timeframe and within a specific geographic area. This is usually determined by a Court but can prohibit a high-level employee from soliciting their former employer’s clients for up to 2 years.

What Are the Legal Consequences of  Taking Clients from a Former Employer?

If an employee solicits their employer’s clients or competes with their employer while employed, the employer may have grounds to terminate their employment immediately with cause, deny them severance entitlements, and potentially have a case for damages against the employee.

If an employee subject to a non-solicitation agreement or a fiduciary employee solicits their former employer’s clients, the employer can commonly sue for:

  • Breach of contract;
  • Breach of fiduciary duty;
  • Breach of confidence; and
  • Inducing breach of contract.

An employer can seek the following against a former who solicits their clients unlawfully:

  • Lost revenues and profits;
  • Provable damages for non-tangible harm, such as loss of reputation;
  • Punitive damages to punish the employee and deter similar conduct from other employees;
  • Injunctions to prevent them from further solicitation of clients;
  • The some, most, or potentially all a former employer’s legal costs; and
  • Other orders a Court may deem appropriate to address the harm a former employer suffers.

Depending on the context, an employee may also be subject to criminal liability for instances of fraud or criminal activity in connection with their solicitation of a former employer’s clients.

Related Topics

Conclusion

Taking a former employer’s clients are illegal insofar as their former employer can sue them when:

  • There is a non-solicitation agreement or provision prohibiting them from soliciting after the end of an employment relationship; or
  • The employee in question was a fiduciary of their employer.

An employee who steals or unlawfully solicits clients from their former employer may be on the hook for significant legal liability, damages, and their former employer’s legal costs.

Whether you are an employer or an employee, a consultation with an employment lawyer for tailored legal advice can be the difference between winning or losing in a solicitation or other employment-related lawsuit. Both employers and employees can benefit from an employment lawyer’s assistance with:

  • Understanding their legal rights, obligations, and what proactive actions they can take to minimize their legal risks while maximizing their entitlements;
  • Negotiating a resolution in a potential solicitation scenario; and
  • Navigating the legal process to achieve their respective desired results.

Contact Achkar Law

If you’re facing employment law challenges, you’re not alone. Our dedicated team of employment law professionals is here to provide you with the support, guidance, and representation you need to navigate through complex legal matters with confidence.

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Concerned About Solicitation Risks? Consult with Achkar Law

Understanding the legal implications of soliciting clients from a previous employer is crucial to navigating your career transitions responsibly. If you’re considering this move or facing allegations of breach of confidentiality, Achkar Law can provide you with the legal guidance you need. Our team focuses on employment law and can help you understand the boundaries and obligations defined by your previous employment contracts to avoid potential legal issues.