I recently quit my job at a company. There was a specific client that I was working on solely for the purpose that the company can afford to pay me. Meaning, this client was someone that required work that only I was able to provide in the company, and the company wanted me to work on this client’s projects only so they can have more income to be able to afford paying me a salary.
Now that I quit and am looking to do freelance work for the next few months, the client still wants to work with me. The company I quit has nothing to offer this client after I left. However, the company is requesting that I give them a portion of all income I get from this client from now on, claiming that since they brought in the client years ago, I cannot take him away from them without giving them some of the profits.
I do not know if this matters, but the company also owes me several month’s salary which they did not pay me, so I also feel it is unfair to even ask for a fee, considering that I continued working for them under their difficult cash-flow issues and took on more work than I should have handled, including this client whom the company agreed to take on just to be able to pay me some salary.
Halachically, am I allowed to work on this client? Do I have to pay my previous employer any fee or do I need to split profits with them? Are there any other halachic and/or moral issues I need to consider?
Looking forward to your reply. Thank you so much.
You can continue to work for this client, and you don’t need to give any share of the profits to your previous employer.
Jewish law discusses the matter of “poaching” clients, which is known as maarofia.
The Rashba (3:83; 6:259) writes that if a Jew has a regular client, it is not permitted to “poach” the client away, because the Jew is relies on the custom of his regular client (the idea is derived from the Gemara in Bava Basra concerning somebody who has already laid out a net to catch fish). This is considered “stealing” a person’s income.
This idea is ruled by the Rema (156:5).
However, the practical ruling will depend on the circumstances of each case. In the case of the question, the original company does not have anything to offer the client, and his relationship was entirely with the employee. Having left, the client can of course continue to work with the former employee if he so wishes, and the company has no monetary claim against either of them.