Employee hired from competitor

Q. I just hired a programmer who previously worked for our competition. Our rivalry with this firm is so intense that informing ourselves of the strengths and weaknesses of their products is a major activity at our company. Naturally I would like to take advantage of the new hire’s intimate knowledge of our competitor’s product. May I put her in charge of “competitive intelligence”? What about asking her to review the conclusions reached by my current CI worker?

A. Law and custom are clear about the obligations of a worker to a former employer. He may take along any skills he acquired, but must leave behind any secrets. If a pitcher gets help perfecting his fastball and then gets traded, he doesn’t have to slow down his pitches but he may not reveal the old team’s signals!

Your new programmer may be very skilled at using the product sold by your competitor, but to be honest I don’t think that this is why you value her contribution to your competitive analysis, whether direct or indirect.

Modesty and discretion are paramount values in Judaism, and correspondingly Jewish law is extremely strict about the obligation to keep secrets. Information of a private nature, including business secrets, shouldn’t be revealed even if the teller did not specifically say that the information is secret. So don’t encourage your new employee to go against these moral principles.

You may still engage in competitive intelligence in order to improve your own competitive position, but stick to sifting through information revealed by publicly available sources.

Sources: Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 4b; Chafetz Chaim, Lashon Hara 2:13.