I'm a software developer and I am concerned about a specific limitation on my contract that says:

The employee shall not, without the consent of the company, during the continuance of this agreement be directly or indirectly engaged, concerned or interested in any capacity in any other trade, business or occupation, except that you may hold up to 5 per cent of the issued securities of any company if such securities are listed on a recognized investment exchange

I know that this is a standard restriction on most contracts, and maybe I'm overcautious here, but I'm still not sure if I would have issues if for e.g.

  1. I contribute to open source projects
  2. I work on a personal project in my free time, which could potentially give me some additional income.

For both cases, let's assume that:

  1. My other projects are worked strictly in my free time, and are not affecting my performance in my day-time job
  2. I'm working on completely different markets and technologies, so there is no competition or conflicting profits with my main job
  3. I'm not using libraries or tools that were developed and/or belong to my Company.

Now, if I was working in Evil Corp, so there were crazy financial risks, low ethics, and overzealous lawyers, I guess they could exploit this rule if they wanted to take me down. But for a normal company there should be no problem. Right?

So my question is :

Do you think I might have to inform my employer and ask for a consent to work on such projects? Am I taking a risk by not telling them? Or would I just make things worse my drawing unnecessary attention over me, or even looking stupid?

Disclaimer: I'm not seeking for a legal advice here. Just wandering what is the ethical or smart or normal way to go.

  • Those wild links to this question make this out of scope for me. – paparazzo Nov 23 '15 at 0:21
  • See also "approach employer about outside work" and other results for similar searches – Móż Nov 23 '15 at 1:14
  • How visible will the "personal projects" be to your employer? For example, you might contribute to open source projects using an alias that your employer does not know about. This would be almost invisible to your employer. At the other end of the spectrum, you could start your own company with a public website offering commercial services, which would be highly visible. – Brandin Nov 23 '15 at 10:32
  • @Brandin My personal project would indeed be visible. Also my open source contribution would probably be mentioned e.g. in my Linkedin Profile, so even after the termination of my employment, Evil corp could potentially track my involvement in these projects. I don't want to keep these projects secret anyway – anon Nov 23 '15 at 11:21
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    @yannicuLar Why "delete" the question and answer if it already has some good answers. The close/"put on hold" status is a voting decision. Not everyone agrees, and that's fine. We have two answers here to your question and multiple visitors saw value in it despite the close/"put on hold" votes. – Brandin Nov 23 '15 at 16:20

I wouldn't ask permission, nothing you're doing right now has you involved with a business except a vague future possibility. Why create an issue? In the event that you start a 'real' business out of it, then by all means you should let them know. Most employers are not adverse to employees making a bit of extra income if it doesn't impact on their work, or compete with them, or use any of their resources.

Bringing it to their attention even in a vague way puts you under scrutiny, they might then start looking at your productivity and nitpicking over little things because they now have a different perception of you as a worker.

There is a slight danger they might get upset, but I would think that is offset by the danger of putting yourself in the spotlight. And I think it's something you could easily explain away if they did find out.

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If we assume that you're working for Evil Corp with demonically aggressive lawyers then, of course, you're taking a risk. You're violating the letter of your contract. And an aggressive lawyer can certainly argue about whether your performance is affected, whether the markets are different, whether you're competing with some subsidiary of the corporation, whether your project incorporates intellectual property owned by the company, etc.

Now, how likely is it that in the world of realistic assumptions that the company is actually going to send "demonically aggressive" lawyers after you? If your projects are really as separate from the company's as you state, it's unlikely. It's more likely that the most you'd risk is getting fired (which obviously isn't nothing) but even that isn't particularly likely.

Asking permission is the safe option. Worst case, you're denied permission and told that the company would let you go if you moved forward. Then you'd at least go into it with open eyes.

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