You desperately want to hire a competitor’s top sales person, so to lure her away, you promise that she can expand the scope of her sales while continuing to serve her existing customers nationwide. What’s the harm if after she joins your team, you limit her territory and the type of products she can sell? For one computer company, it cost over $370,000 in damages and interest to the disgruntled, former employee. Add in the time and expense of defending the lawsuit and those seemingly innocuous recruiting statements can really come back to bite you.
Misleading Statements Meant to Entice
Hiring experienced executives, managers and sales persons can be tricky because the best performers are in high demand. In order to entice a quality person away from his or her existing company, you likely have to sweeten the compensation package, offer a promotion or growth potential, provide a better cultural fit, or some combination of these conditions of employment. You wine and dine your candidate and make assurances that things will be better if they leave their current, lucrative job and join your company.
But what if your promises don’t come to pass? What if your regional sales structure does not allow the sales executive to continue to service their national clients? What if the growth you promised isn’t in the cards? You could face a lawsuit alleging negligent misrepresentation, fraudulent inducement, promissory estoppel or other claims.
The federal court in Colorado recently handled such a case in which a successful computer sales person with national accounts left her lucrative position to join another computer company who had promised that she could keep her current accounts and expand the scope of her sales beyond mainframe computer systems. After her new employer assigned many of her lucrative accounts to other sales representatives and told her that she would not be able to sell outside of the mainframe area, she sued. Although her new employer claimed that its recruiting statements were nothing more than predictions or statements of future intent, a jury found in favor of the sales person on her claim of negligent misrepresentation. The jury awarded her damages in the amount of $231,665 and, after an appeal, an additional $139,625 in prejudgment interest. David v. Sirius Computer Solutions, Inc., 779 F.3d 1209 (10th Cir. 2015).
Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep
Tempting as it may be, refrain from making guarantees or promises to job candidates that you can’t fulfill. Executives and high-level sales persons typically have a lot at stake when switching companies, which consequently leads to significant damages should they sue.
In addition, be careful when putting any terms, such as pay, bonuses, commissions and benefits, in writing. If the terms can be changed or will be reviewed periodically, be sure to include that in the written document. If the employment relationship is “at-will,” be sure to specify that so there is no misrepresentation about a guaranteed period of employment. In short, when seeking to induce high performers to leave their current positions, talk up the attributes of your organization but be careful about making promises that you may not be able to keep.