Ex-employee steal your clients?
It’s heartbreaking. I get the call about three times a week. A house cleaner in tears. “I did everything right. I work hard, I pay fair wages, I’m honest and ethical and all that stuff. And now my best employee just left the company and stole all my clients. I’m out the house cleaner and I’m out the clients what are my legal rights?”
Let’s back up a step and have a realistic heart-to-heart. Are you ready?
Your Best House Cleaners Will Steal Your Clients
It happens in every service industry.
Top Chefs leave the restaurants that made them famous. They start their own restaurants and clients who love their food follow them to the new digs.
Consultants and Financial Advisors leave their large firms and branch out on their own. And guess what? The clients who have trusted them for years with their investments are loyal to the advisors – not the firm.
Hair Stylists abandon their Salons and hang out a shingle of their own. And the customers who don’t want anyone else messing with their hairstyle, follow them across town.
House cleaning is no different. I wish it were – because this would be a short conversation. But employees who steal your clients is a part of the cleaning industry you can’t ignore.
Employees You Thought Were Your Friends Will Hijack Your Clientele
“But we were friends. I’ve babysat her kids and we’ve gone on vacation together.”
Yep. It hurts. I know from years of personal experience. Your friends will steal your clients. They will compete with you. And they will use the information and skills they learned from you to get ahead. On their own, without you.
It’s super painful because when your employee appropriates a client, you feel gypped. But when that employee is also your best friend, you feel gypped and betrayed.
The first time it happens to you it’s a crushing blow to your business, your self-esteem, and your self-worth. Expect to feel anger, rage and the need for vindication.
This is normal. You’re going through a business divorce and your bestie is taking you to the cleaners in the break-up.
Your Best House Cleaners Will Rob You of Your Best Employee(s).
“It was bad enough for my best house cleaner to go out on her own – but now she’s pirated, my other employees. They’ve all gone with her to start over.”
And let me guess, along with them all quitting they pilfered your clients? Yep. That sounds about right.
Here’s one of the risks of having house cleaners work together on teams. They spend hours a day sharing the same commute, the same clients, the same challenges. And it’s easy for them to decide they want to work together on their own without you.
It’s Not Always About Greed
You might assume your house cleaning employees left you over greed. But it usually comes from the desire to provide more for their families. Have more control over their time. Or be the one to make the decisions within the company to better serve the client. At the root of an employee leaving you is a hard working person who has the same dreams you do. After all, that’s why you started this business too right?
Here’s something to consider. Many maids and cleaning technicians are great at house cleaning. But they are lousy business owners. Most of them don’t know about marketing and inventory of supplies. Or about hiring and training employees and all the other stuff you need to know to run a business. And many of them will be out of business after floundering at it by themselves for two years or less.
In other words, they don’t recognize the benefits of working with you until they’ve moved on.
Your Competitors Will Poach Your Best Employees
Here’s another smack upside the head with a twist, but just as painful. Your competitor swoops in and smuggles your best house cleaners to come work for them.
While the employee(s) are not going out on their own – it’s just as bad because they have insider information about your business. They know how you run your business and they know where your weaknesses are. They know how to compete against you in your marketplace and they know your clients. And yes, they will steal your clients and give them to your competition. They have relationships with those clients.
And if you ask the clients – they might feel the same loyalty towards your prized house cleaners. And guess what? The client is not bound by any rules or legal regulations. They can hire any house cleaner they want. After all, that’s how you got them as a client in the first place.
Your Business Is Prone to Hurricanes
First, let’s not play naive. Let’s be aware that good employees will leave you. And they will steal your clients. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.
If you live on the beach, in an area prone to hurricanes, there is a strong possibility that at some time a hurricane will hit your area. It happens in the late summer with water vapor and heat condensations carried away by wind shear.
If you watch the news you’ll see people taking preventative measures. Boarding up their windows, stacking sandbags and packing their cars to evacuate. They also have a special hurricane and flood insurance to repair the inevitable damage.
Your cleaning service business is no different. There will be hurricanes.
How Do You Protect Yourself From Business Hurricanes?
First, don’t wait until the sky turns gray and the rain rolls in. Like watching the news and following the doppler radar, you can watch for signs. Keep close tabs on your clients, your employees and your competitors. Know what is going on.
Have your insurances in place. In this scenario, it is having signed Non-Compete and Non-Solicitation agreements from every employee. When you hire a house cleaner, make sure they sign these during the hiring process. Don’t wait until you suspect your employees are filching your clients. Then it’s too late. Keep copies of these contracts in your employee’s file and your rules in your employee handbook.
Let them understand that you are investing in them, and their training and you are offering them employment. But you have to protect your business so you have legal paperwork for them to sign.
Be Specific In Your Contract Terms
A house cleaner is not allowed to contact any of your companies clients within 12 months after retirement, quitting or dismissal. Your employees are not allowed to clean any houses within a 10-mile radius of you for 12 months after they leave etc.
This is a good time to talk with an employment attorney to create some iron-clad documents that will support your business. Or you can go the DIY route and use RocketLawyer to create these contracts with online help.
The truth is Non-Compete clauses are relatively easy to poke holes in and overthrow in the US. And it costs a lot of money to legally enforce these rules.
And then you have to ask yourself if you really want to spend your mental and financial resources duking it out with your best friend in court. Your resources may be better spent hiring a new employee and getting new clients.
There Will Be Damage
The bad news is that when a hurricane strikes your business, there will be damage. You can’t prevent it, only minimize the impact.
Let’s suppose you have Non-Compete and Non-Solicitation policies in place with your employees. Then you find out an employee is using your company resources and reputation to moonlight cleaning jobs on the side. This is a problem because it is illegal and it’s embezzlement. Not to mention that your company is backing up the satisfaction guarantee for the jobs you didn’t know about.
And heaven forbid your house cleaner steals something from that client. You’re on the hook to pay for the bond. Or if they damage an appliance or a hardwood floor, your insurance will have to kick in and replace it. Your employee is not entitled to the benefits of your company if they’ve gone rogue and are working on their own without your knowledge.
How Do You Prevent Employees From Commandeering Your Clients In the First Place?
During the hiring process ask your new hire to sign the Non-Compete and Non-Solicitation agreements.
Explain to them that your working relationship is valuable. You believe in this new hire, and you want to help them succeed.
Let them know the day will come when they feel they have eclipsed your business and they will want to go out on their own. You understand this concept and can help them navigate the process if they are upfront with you.
Remind them that open communication leads to a lifetime of respect, referrals, and support. Encourage them to choose the open communication method rather than the alternative. Let them know when they leave your business it will be with legal action or a hug. You hope it’s a hug.
On day one this will set the tone of how serious you are about protecting your business assets and your brand.
NOTE: Your job is to keep the lines of communication open between your clients and your employees.
Maintain a Healthy Sense of Suspicion
This is another way of saying don’t run around with blinders on. Don’t ignore red flags. If there are rumblings about employee dissatisfaction – ask questions. Find out what is going on. What can you do to fix things before they turn sour?
It’s like noticing a leaky roof. Instead of getting a bucket to catch the rain – call a repair guy and get the roof fixed before the damage wrecks the drywall and the ceiling caves in.
Hold Your Employees Accountable
interviews conversations with your house cleaners. Ask questions about clients and other employees. Find out how things are going at home. Ask how your company can create a better working environment for your cleaning assistants.
Show Them You Care
House cleaning is a lonely job. Cleaners work all day by themselves. They need other humans to talk to. They need someone who understands their pain. If they have special requests, or they need time off to be with an ailing parent during a surgery – make it happen. Loyalty comes from the humanity you show your employees.
What Do You Do When House Cleaners Steal Your Clients?
Act fast. The longer you take to resolve the problem, the more energy and resources it will consume. Dragging it out doesn’t fix the problem and it’s not fair to your other employees. You’ve got to fire the house cleaner who is rerouting clients and disrupting your work environment.
Don’t Resolve Your Company Problems When You’re Emotional
Get your emotions out of the picture. You’re angry, you feel betrayed and you’re ticked off. And you know this house cleaner, you know his family, his sick mom and so on.
The goodness in you will try to rationalize keeping him on because he’s a good person, and a good worker, in a bad spot.
Your responsibility to your clients and your other employees is to protect your business. Protect your brand. You can’t do that if he’s cut you out of the loop. Like it or not, this house cleaner is already a competitor. He is using your resources to divert profits to himself.
This is not a problem that heals itself. You have to take immediate corrective action.
Check For Blind Spots
Recognize during this heartbreak phase, that you have lots of blind spots. Consult with an employment attorney to discuss your best course of legal action and remedies. Take care not to stumble into a wage, retaliation, defamation or discrimination claim. Cover your bases before you fire the employee.
The longer you take to resolve the problem, the more energy and resources it will consume. Dragging it out doesn’t fix the problem and it’s not fair to your other employees.
Fire The Employee
You’ve got to fire the house cleaner who is rerouting clients and disrupting your work environment. That is your only option. You discussed this issue during the hiring process and you explained your rules. He broke your rules and your legal contract. And now you have to fire him. If you don’t, you send a message to your other employees that you don’t enforce company policy. Soon all your employees will run amok. And your business will fail.
Change all computer passwords and office keys he has access to. Disable his password to employee training and company materials on your company website. That is proprietary information and you don’t want him using it grow his own business. Or to pass along to other companies he may later work for.
Contact Your Clients
Contact all your clients that this house cleaner worked for. Let them know he is no longer with your company and introduce them to a new house cleaner who will be replacing him.
Don’t go into details and don’t defame him. Listen to your customers and ask service related questions. Find out what you can do as a company to reinforce your relationship with the client so you don’t lose them and their business.
If the client decides they want to go with the ex-employee there is little you can do. Thank them for their business and ask them to keep you in mind in the event that something ever changes. Move on.
Note in Parting
When you hire house cleaners – don’t look at the hiring process as a marriage of minds. Look at the relationship like you are dating someone you know you’ll never marry.
They will move on. And when they do – I wish you no pain, and I hope it’s with your blessing.
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