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I have a full-time job and also have a small hobby side business that is completely unrelated to my full-time job.

I'm trying to find a new job at the moment, and it will be unrelated to my side business. Will the new employer be able to find out about my side business through my W-2's, tax returns, or background checks? Or is it impossible for them to find out unless I mention it?

I'm really worried that my new employer will just write me off if they find out if I have a side business (because I heard that some companies frown upon side business even if they are just hobbies). But I also would hate to give up on my hobby. Thank you in advance!

closed as primarily opinion-based by JakeGould, Kate Gregory, Jenny D, Alec, gnat Sep 30 '15 at 14:37

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Is it a hobby or a side business? – Jane S Sep 28 '15 at 3:00
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    I sell my crafts because crafting is my hobby, but i do have a sales tax permit and an EIN for tax purposes, so it is a side business. – user42434 Sep 28 '15 at 3:08
  • Are you applying with companies in the banking and investment industries or one that may be publicly traded? They'll have employment agreements with restrictions to avoid conflicts of interest or the regulatory agency may not allow. – user8365 Sep 28 '15 at 12:48
  • Oh no, I'm just an office worker in the engineering industry. I feel like they won't find out unless they actively look if I own a business during my background check... – user42434 Sep 29 '15 at 2:58
  • Would you really want to work with a company where you'd have to be dishonest in order to stay there? – Jenny D Sep 29 '15 at 7:59
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If it's completely unrelated with no overlap, it shouldn't matter if they find out. I wouldn't even mention it to a prospective employer as a side business, although I might list it as an interest or hobby in my CV.

So if I was a programmer doing x

And also a knapper occasionally selling knapped arrowheads made from the bottom of beer bottles.

Or a tattooist who does the odd bit of tattooing in his garage of an evening.

Or all three

That's not going to impact on my programming work, and if they were to find out I'd just explain that to them. Possibly some might look askance at it, others may well book themselves in for a tattoo of a knapped arrowhead.

  • I wonder what are the chances of them finding out? I feel like they wouldn't find out unless they were specifically looking for my side business during a background check, but I'm still worried because I've had some crazy employers before. – user42434 Sep 28 '15 at 3:16
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    If the employer is that crazy, would you want to work for them? – Jane S Sep 28 '15 at 3:19
  • I think the chances are slim of them finding out, unless you actually tell them, or you find that someone in there has similar hobbies. But I also think the consequences of them finding out are nothing to worry unduly about, just be upfront if anyone asks. – Kilisi Sep 28 '15 at 3:19
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    Yeah, that's true. I wouldn't work for a crazy company ever again! – user42434 Sep 28 '15 at 3:28
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    I see, that makes me feel at ease. Ans I will definitely be upfront if anyone does ask in the future. Hopefully nobody does though haha – user42434 Sep 28 '15 at 3:30
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Will the new employer be able to find out about my side business through my W-2's,

No they will not have access to your W-2 beyond the ones you fill out for them.

tax returns,

They don't see the tax returns you file with the government.

or background checks?

Yes. If they are doing a background check, and they ask about it; you will of course tell them. So they will find out. If they ask and you lie about it you put your job at risk.

Or is it impossible for them to find out unless I mention it?

If you don't tell them about it they could still find out. If they do a background check they might find reference to it while investigating you online. Of they might discover it if one of your references mentions it.

If the background check has a financial requirement, it is possible they could find reference to it.

Why do they care

It depends on the company. They want to make sure that your main interest regarding work is them. The job might have travel requirements, or the need to work weekends. For some people the side business requirement could limit their ability to be flexible.

They might be concerned that you are trying to grow the business and will not be working with them for very long. They can also be concerned that you will spend work hours, hours they are paying you, instead sneaking in a little work on the side business.

They are also concerned about your business being a competitor, or some other conflict of interest.

To be able to evaluate these issues regarding your specific business they must know about it.

What is the risk

It depends on what you sign, and when you sign it.

Some companies want you declare all outside businesses and projects. They then will claim everything else from that point forward. They will claim that you only started work on X after being exposed to Y at the office.

If they have a requirement to approve all outside income, and you claim that you don't have any. They could then fire you for that omission. That termination could come years after you start.

How likely is this? Not very. It would take a lawyer to give an opinion on how likely it is to fire you, or to claim the business.

But if they ask. You need to tell them, and let them decide.

  • This is why I would hate for them to find out. They might see me as a less desirable candidate. When you say "they will claim everything," they can only claim something that is related to my work, right? My work is nothing artsy and my side business is hand crafting, so I doubt they would want to claim my work as theirs. – user42434 Sep 28 '15 at 12:27
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Tell them right away.

It doesn't matter whether it's a concern to them or not, you want to avoid all collision as possible.

Some companies actually forbid their employees to receive funds from others than themselves, unless you get a written permission from your boss. Even if this is not the case, i.e. it's not in your contract, you want to be sure rather than sorry.

Besides, you probably want to know now whether your employee to be is a total d-head or not, it could look bad for you to resign or get fired after only a couple of months of employment, for a reason as ridiculous as this. Find out now and safe ya-self the time, and allow your employer to know you a little better; it's not like you're selling drugs or performing any actual illegal activity.

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