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I am currently working as an intern at a consulting firm. I am soon to move to a full time employee once I graduate next semester, and I love working there. However, as a student, I lack money and I have met a business owner outside of work who has offered to hire me for some freelance web development.

Because I met this individual outside of work, I feel it would not be a conflict of interest to freelance for him. However, the work his is wanting me to do is very similar to what I already do for my current boss.

Should I speak with my boss before considering the offer?

Edit: I understand that I cannot take IP from work, and I am not in a contract, I'm employed at will.

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14 Answers 14

up vote 16 down vote accepted

Since you care about this issue, and are considering working for them full time, I think now is a great time to find out how they handle it. They may say "sure, go ahead, we like to see people improving themselves!" They may put some restrictions on you about using their tools. They may forbid you to do it, or even threaten to fire you. They may say "oh gosh, you need more money, we can pay you more (possibly for more hours)". Anything could happen. Even the ones that don't feel good (like forbidding you) actually are, because they tell you what this job is like before you're committed to it. If they will lock you in and control you, do you want to work there when you graduate?

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Even worse they may encourage it before they hire you, then write you nasty emails about how they only barely tolerate it after they hired you (happened to me). –  NickC Dec 21 '10 at 3:30

No

Unless your contract specifically forbids freelancing, what you do on your own time is none of his business.

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This depends on jurisdiction. I believe in the U.S. it's pretty much assumed that what you do in your free time is your own business, but it's not the case in all countries (oh how I wish it was, though!) –  Dean Harding Nov 21 '10 at 22:34
    
Yep, in the UK it's pretty much nailed on that (a) your contract will forbid other paid work without permission and (b) that the company you're contracted to would have some claim over any IP generated. –  Jon Hopkins Nov 22 '10 at 12:29
    
@Jon: How can they do that? –  Josh K Nov 22 '10 at 14:15
    
Because employment law here says it's legal to do so. You could have your contract changed if your employer would agree but generally speaking the norm is that if you're contracted as a permanent employee to them then that's how it works. –  Jon Hopkins Nov 22 '10 at 14:24
    
This not true at all. You can open yourself and your employer up to legal problems by doing so. –  Andy Mar 18 at 1:20

Check your contract first, but I would always advice to talk honestly with all your business relations which include your boss.

In any case, get a written approval.

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+1 - contract is what matters. –  user1249 Nov 21 '10 at 16:12
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Care to elaborate on why written approval? Lets say employee has no contract, they are hired at will what is to stop them from doing more work outside of their 9-5 day job? Just curious if you have had experiences with this or what your justification for this statement was. –  Chris Nov 21 '10 at 17:41
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I assumed his contract explicitely disallow it. It's very common. And why written? Words fly away; written things remain. –  user2567 Nov 21 '10 at 18:02
    
+1 for "talk honestly with all your business relations". You won't get fired for asking, and honesty really is the best policy (thanks, mum!) –  Dean Harding Nov 21 '10 at 22:35

I've done a combination of full-time jobs and contracts with freelancing on the side, and full-time freelancing, for about twenty years. So I try to keep up with legal and practical ramifications in the USA.

Does your employer prohibit or limit moonlighting? This would normally be in an employee handbook or in a document you signed when you joined the company.

Even if they have such a policy, you should check, because there are labor laws and case law precedents, on both national and state levels, that void some policies like that - even if you've signed that you agree to them.

Don't compete with your employer, or take gigs with companies that compete with them. If your day job is doing websites for a dog food company, doing a website for another pet food company would be competitive, but doing one for a martial arts school wouldn't. And if your employer sells website design services... don't do websites as a side gig.

Don't use your employer's time or resources for your side work. Buy your own computers, books, development tools, etc., and keep them off the company premises. Try to avoid taking phone calls at work, and if you have to, limit them to breaks or lunch, preferably outside your employer's office.

Once you're covered on all those bases, you don't need to say anything to your employer. However, if your boss is reasonable, it might be courteous just to mention, "A friend of mine asked me to do X in my spare time." I do that, and have never gotten grief about it.

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Note that labor laws don't necessarily protect you. In most US states, employment is "at will", which means you can be let go without any reason (and not giving a reason is safest). –  David Thornley Nov 22 '10 at 16:11
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@David Thornley: Quite true - but terminating you for a reason other than misconduct can be quite painful for the employer. If you collect unemployment, the employer's unemployment insurance premiums can go up for years. You're also eligible for COBRA, which is a paperwork headache for the employer. It can be worth it if an employee is unproductive or difficult - but in a company with an HR department, a manager who said, "I want to dump this person who's a fine worker, doesn't cause trouble, and hasn't violated any company policies" wouldn't get far with that idea. –  Bob Murphy Nov 22 '10 at 23:48

As well as checking your contract, it is obviously important that you don't take code from the consulting firm that you work at to use on your freelance projects.

In my experience bosses have liked that the fact that I've been willing to do freelance work - it is practice for your day job after all.

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3  
Good point. Not just that, but you also can't use any tools (IDE, profilers, etc.) that are licensed to you as an employee of the consulting firm. –  Erik van Brakel Nov 21 '10 at 16:19
    
Yes using code/tools from work is a no no. This is freelancing for a reason. That is the big key, if you get caught using code you created at work or tools work provides you will probably not be around too much longer. –  Chris Nov 21 '10 at 17:40

My written employment agreement states that I'll get permission from my boss before taking outside employment. That included when I ran for election (after he stopped laughing hysterically [oddly enough, my father also laughed hysterically when I told him I was standing for office], he said yes). Things that the company has accepted co-workers for outside employment include part-time retail (that guy is paying for 3 divorces) and part-time schlepping boxes at UPS.

Whether you think it is the business of my boss (and I don't think it is), the argument is that they don't want your side work affecting your main job's performance.

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Not sure what is in your case, but the fate of fact is, "tell your boss and he wont permit you". Most employers usually have it written somewhere on the contract that would say, "you will not engage into any activity that will have an impact on your commitment for your current job". Having to work for someone, particularly on large scale may take away some time from your current work. If there is nothing on the contract that says you can't, I would suggest that you put less effort on the external work. Say 2 hours each working day and a bit more during the weekends. That's how I do my outside office work :)

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You should always talk to your boss when considering doing freelance work outside of your normal job, unless it's something completely unrelated. If you have a proper contract, it'll probably contain some paragraphs about that.

Aside from the legal things, it's always a good idea to be open and honest towards your employer. By being honest there will be no surprises. What if the company you work for was trying to close a deal with your potential client, and you win the deal? That could get real awkward.

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Contracts I've seen usually have some clause about this. For example, I'm forbidden to work on side projects in my employer's core industry. Everything else is fair game so long as it doesn't impact my daily performance.

If you don't have a contract, you can either assume a similar arrangement or ask your boss explicitly. I am not a lawyer, but I think if you are reasonable (i.e. don't reuse code written at work, don't use software or hardware provided by your employer, don't become a direct competitor with your employer, etc.), then you should be okay. It's then a matter of deciding whether it's better to ask forgiveness or permission if your employer does have an issue with your side work.

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Be aware of local laws. In the UK, there are standard terms in the software industry that grant your employer ownership of all software code you write. As these are standard terms in the industry your employer can argue successfully that these terms apply even if they are not written in your contract.

In the UK, you should get explicit permission in writing from your employer, as otherwise you are potentially putting your employer and your freelance customer into a copyright fight over ownership of that source code.

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Dont know why this got voted down, it might not be PALATABLE but it is very true. –  quickly_now Nov 22 '10 at 8:16
    
Are you kidding? The employer owns the code I write in my free time? –  Silviu Burcea Aug 26 at 13:24

I think if you don't break/violate any rule of your main job and not harming your main job by freelance job, then its fine to do freelance job, and you should be independent of asking anyone about what you do at your extra time.

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You should check your local state/province/whatever's laws concerning this issue as a first step. If the rules are sane and distinguish work done away from work as being only your concern then you are not obligated to tell your boss anything. However, you know your boss better than anyone here will and may already have some clue as to his reaction. As long as no contract or law stands in your way you can do what you want to do.

In the past I have not shared with employers when I did work on my time that was not relevant to them. And, I don't share with clients information about work I do for other clients or my employer when it isn't relevant. Unless the work you are doing could create a conflict of interest I'd just keep it to yourself.

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Firstly, honesty never hurt anybody.

Secondly, depending on where you are based your local laws will have a big impact. In most western society with a legal system derived from UK common law, the master/servant principle still effectively applies.

The impact of this in practice is that your employer owns your output. The TIME OF DAY at which your output is produced is completely irrelevant to this. Normally, employers will take the reasonable line that stuff you do that is not relevant to their business is of no interest to them.

However they can quite rightly take the view that things you do that are in the same line of business are their property - whether done at home in the evenings or otherwise. In general if this is a hobby they won't care. But if done for commercial gain, they will care a lot. This looks and smells like a conflict of interest and is a good way to get fired very quickly.

Sometimes this will all be carefully considered and written into an employee handbook, or your contract, and sometimes it won't. If its not in your contract - whoopee doo! The law of the land still applies.

When in doubt, ASK.

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Note that the law does vary. The State of Minnesota passed a law in 1982 that essentially allows freelancing after hours (although you shouldn't rely on my saying that, but get a real lawyer if it matters to you). –  David Thornley Nov 22 '10 at 16:14

Tell him and if you dont do well all the blame will come to Freelancing work. However it is still important to do what your contract says.

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