I'm a software-developer, and I've had a list of project ideas that I've had floating in my head for a couple of years now. I also have a co-worker whose work-ethic I respect, as well as their programming ability and ability to learn. Neither of us work full-time for the company.

The projects I have in my head are in no way in competition to a product that our company produces, and I don't think would have any interest in developing in the future-- within any reasonable consideration, anyway. Not like it would be impossible for them too, just seems highly unlikely.

My question is, is it ethical for me to ask for help, or to enlist him on any of these projects seeing as I met him through work, and potentially start a business/service/etc.. on the side?



4 Answers 4


Lots of businesses start out as sideline projects for the people that found them. If you're still employed, make sure that your contract doesn't preclude your new business from getting off the ground. In general, you'll want to branch out into territory that doesn't compete with your employer.

Remain a productive employee. Also, make it a point to know your employer’s policies on moonlighting. You don’t want to find yourself out of work prematurely, because your employer caught wind of your new venture and disapproved.

Keep things between you and your co-worker alone, i guess he is more of a friend than co-worker to you.

While it might be tempting to brag to your coworkers about how you're starting a new business, you might find that you aren't employed by the time the gossip makes it up the corporate ladder. Employers don't take kindly to employees who start their own businesses while they're still employed, particularly if they suspect that you're using company time and resources to fund your own endeavors.

So, expect to work extremely hard but be realistic about how many hours you can put in. you have less time, so you have to make it count.


Personally, I do not think it is unethical at all. Certain types of employment (ie: sales) tend to have clauses written into employees contracts to protect them from actions people do when leaving (poaching customers and colleagues) so as @Vinothbabu mentioned, check that you have no similar items in your employment contract.

At the end of the day, your co-worker is an adult and can make up their own mind. They can weigh up the pros and cons of joining your side venture for themselves, you are merely offering the opportunity.

Also, this feeds in to a common thread that has started to appear in a few answers on this site recently - think long-term. What is of more benefit to you - developing this side venture or protecting your emplyment/reputation with your current employer? I appreciate it is not always a balck and white decision but you need to think what is best for you and your future.


Yes it is ethical, as listed above check your contract very closely and if you are really worried you can even ask HR. If you ask them to keep the matter private they will not tell anyone. I actually did this at my last job and made sure to cover all my basses before I did anything. Generally speaking there are a few ways companies treat both taking people and outside work. I have seen the following,

Outside Work: 1. As part of your contract you are forbidden to do any outside work 2. As Part of your contract you are forbidden to do any outside work in the same field/for a competitor of the company you work for 3. You can do what ever you want but you have to disclose it to us 4. You can do what ever you want but you cannot use what you have done here 5. You can do what ever you want, we dont care.

Poaching employees 1. We dont care what you do with each other out of the office 2. If you both want to leave that is your call

The general rule about things like this (at least in my mind) is to not talk about it at work, not work on it at work, and not use any company resources to do it. In reality your job cannot really control what you do in your free time so as long as it does not affect your work you are good to go. As for leaving the company if your startup were to take off, unless you are under contract you and the guy you bring in are free to quit as you would any job. There are many companies that have been started by employees who got together at bigger companies and left to do something completely different.


I can't speak for other jurisdictions and other professions, but in Ontario the Professional Engineer's code of ethics prohibits moonlighting without written notification of the employer, if the relationship is direct employment, even in cases where there is no (other) perceived conflict of interest.

A practitioner who is an employee-engineer and is contracting in the practitioner’s own name to perform professional engineering work for other than the practitioner’s employer, must provide the practitioner’s client with a written statement of the nature of the practitioner’s status as an employee and the attendant limitations on the practitioner’s services to the client, must satisfy the practitioner that the work will not conflict with the practitioner’s duty to the practitioner’s employer, and must inform the practitioner’s employer of the work.

A complaint can lead to being brought before a tribunal.

So, the contracts and whatever personal ethical considerations come into play may not be the only constraints if either of you are professionals.

Personally I think you're in pretty murky waters. I've seen some employment contracts that claim every bit of IP you come up with, even on your own time, in unrelated areas, belongs to the company. Enforceable? Not sure, but I wouldn't want to test it. Clearly, a significant number of employers would not see this as an ethical move.

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