Poached on gardening leave

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An announcement last week served as a timely reminder of just how hot the banking jobs market was a few months ago.

Financial News reported that James Eden and Ian Gordon, two banking analysts at Dresdner who quit six months ago for Société Générale, have re-surfaced at Exane BNP Paribas after being poached from Soc Gen before they'd even started.

Back in the balmy days of early summer, such things were not remarkable, say headhunters. "This is by no means uncommon - we've done it, and had it done to us," says Shaun Springer, chief executive of search firm Napier Scott. "An individual on gardening leave is at his or her most vulnerable - they've left somewhere they know and are waiting to start at somewhere they don't know. However well-prepped they've been, moreover, a move is vastly facilitated as one does not have the difficulty of extricating them from an employer, " he adds.

"This happened a lot," says another headhunter. "If someone's on gardening leave, it can be hard to persuade them to fulfil their commitment to join another bank, except by pointing out that it's not ethical to renege on an agreement."

Ethical reasons aside, it seems hiring banks have little legal recourse when it comes to corralling someone who's changed their mind into joining them. "Strictly speaking, once you've signed the contract you'll be in breach of contract if you don't join," says James Davis, an employment lawyer at Lewis Silkin. "But if the employee refuses to join there's little the employer can do - there's not much to stop them from joining for one day and then quitting."

None of this is likely to be an issue at the moment, with few banks hiring - let alone going to the lengths of pinching someone en route to a competitor. Springer is optimistic that we haven't seen the last of it, however: "This obviously won't be going on in the structured credit arena, but life continues elsewhere."

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