I work at a really small startup (around 15 employees), where the work culture is generally good (at least to my satisfaction), and we (the employees) work closely with the owners (3 of them).

Recently, one of the owner's brother (call him Dave) joined the company as a full time employee. Dave's recruitment cannot be seen as a favour as he did indeed prove his skills and worth for the company and none of my colleagues have a problem with that. It's worth mentioning that he's a fresh graduate and has joined us as a fresher.

Since this is a startup, the owners expect us to put in hours apart from work hours, which again we don't have any problem with. Now, the problem starts when Dave puts those extra hours working as a freelancer, whereas us commoners are bound by company rules against this. Also, Dave's freelancing is in the knowledge of the owners and they don't have any problems with it.

I have talked to my peers regarding this and we all feel that we're being discriminated against. I think it's also worth mentioning that me and my peers are at a senior position to Dave, and have selflessly put in a lot for the company. Another thing to note is that after adding this extra earning from freelancing, Dave's monthly earning is nearly double to ours(yes, the country we work in has low exchange rate as compared to USD).

How can I and my peers deal with this situation so that we can reduce the number of hours expected of us to a number consistent with the family members?

P.S. - I don't want to leave the job and I'm very certain that my employers don't want that either. So, looking for another job is out of question

  • Are the 'policies' you describe written/documented? Or are they simply the understanding you have with your employer?
    – Steve
    Commented Jan 16, 2013 at 17:53
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    Related: Is there an effective way of dealing with nepotism at work?
    – yannis
    Commented Jan 16, 2013 at 17:55
  • @Stephen they are documented and in our contract.
    – Wroker
    Commented Jan 16, 2013 at 17:55
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    @Wroker so your fundamental problem with the situation is more, "a coworker is allowed to freelance and we are not, letting him work the same total hours but make considerably more money?" What are you trying to do? Change company policy so you and your peers can do this? Change the number of hours you are expected to work to match what Dave is?
    – enderland
    Commented Jan 16, 2013 at 19:19
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    @Wroker it's hard for me to see what you are trying to accomplish. How can I and my peers deal with this situation? strongly implies you are wanting a specific thing to change. If you are, what is it? If you are not, the answer is "don't worry about it." No one here can read your mind and asking for everyone's perspective on "what should I do!" without some amount of guidance makes this a really hard "question" to answer :-)
    – enderland
    Commented Jan 16, 2013 at 19:57

3 Answers 3


You have to establish what the question is in order to get an answer.

First, do you even care that Dave is earning money as a freelancer? Surely if he was at home watching TV with his family, or on campus attending lectures and earning a degree, what you care about is that you're expected to work 60 hours a week for this company (or 50, or 100, or something more than 40) for your salary, and Dave is not.

If that's the question, Why doesn't he have to work unpaid overtime? then I suspect the answer is that as a brother, he's getting some special treatment in only having to work regular hours. I don't think you should routinely work overtime (even in a startup) and in fact, Dave's arrangement could be the "thin end of the wedge" that you can use in a few months to point out that it's possible for a good employee to give only 40 hours a week to the company. Don't fight it, wait and see how you can use it.

Or is it that you would like, in addition to not having to work unpaid overtime, to be free to compete with your employer by freelancing? Here you have to see the trust issue and why it matters that Dave is the owner's brother. If my staff can freelance, they might steal my own clients from me. Perhaps when someone has worked for me for years, I can trust them. But it might upset the staff if some are trusted and others are not. But a brother? You have to trust your brother! So don't expect that situation to change.

I should also mention that it's possible the brother's freelance income is being shared with the owner to enable that owner to draw less from the startup. The sacrifices owners make are usually kept very quiet.

In summary, my advice to you is to continue to do your job the way you have been doing. If you don't like the unpaid overtime, consider suggesting that you do less of it, like Dave. If you long for freelance work, consider asking if you can do one very specific non-competing project (rather than freelancing in general) but understand if your request is denied. But don't mix the two requests together. Ask for one or the other and only when that's settled and calm ask for the other, if in fact you want both.

  • I don't think trust is the issue. No matter how much trust the owner has on me, my request to freelance would be denied, regardless of the project being competing or not. I'd be expected to put in those extra hours for company's work instead and I'll be promised apt bonuses, but the fact is that in the end if it is only about money, I can make much more through freelancing. So, either I can freelance without my employers' knowledge, or just live with the discrimination. The problem is I don't want either, so what to do next? Complicated. :)
    – Wroker
    Commented Jan 16, 2013 at 18:57
  • But the OP is not allowed to work as a freelancer and that is taking money out of his pocket.
    – user8365
    Commented Jan 16, 2013 at 19:40
  • AS a business owner I have rules about my staff freelancing. It's more complicated than "don't" but I do apply restrictions and complying is a condition of employment. BTW, I would not tell a staff member "I don't trust you" but the reason for not allowing it is usually just that - trust about intellectual property, stealing clients, etc. Commented Jan 16, 2013 at 19:43
  • So, it basically boils down to this: my employers probably won't ever trust us enough to let us freelance even if somehow our expected working hours do get cut. Which leaves me with two options - 1. Freelance but don't let them know 2. Look for another job - and I don't want either, so I guess I'll just continue to do my job the way I've been doing.
    – Wroker
    Commented Jan 17, 2013 at 4:56
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    I would just point out they might not ever trust you enough to say yes to "can I go freelance at whatever I want?" but they might say yes to "look at this specific opportunity I have; can I do this?" - something that doesn't compete and doesn't threaten them. The general permission I think is something unreasonable to ask for. Commented Jan 17, 2013 at 14:42

If you are going to work for a small, privately-held business, you need to accept that there will always be people with a personal relationship to the owner who will get preferential treatment. If you don't like that, then work for larger businesses that do not allow nepotism. In one place where I worked the president's cousin got a free car that none of us got. In others they got preference in promotions, the ability to take time off beyond the official leave they got, or their lunch bought by the company every day. Often they get positions they are not qualified to hold. This is just one of the normal parts of working for a small business. Rewarding family members is one of the perks of owning a business.

But truly, no workplace is fair to everyone all the time and you will drive yourself crazy worrying about whether someone else is getting more than you. Someone else always is. In the long run look for a place where the conditions you accepted are fine with you and don't worry about whether someone else got a better deal. You probably get a better deal on something than someone else too, how often do you worry about that?

  • I've got to admit that my employers are generally fair, and even didn't want Dave to join initially but had to take him in as he did atleast as well as the best trainees. The problem is they aren't exactly favouring him at the workplace, it's after we leave the workplace that the problem sets in.
    – Wroker
    Commented Jan 16, 2013 at 19:10
  • Honestly @Wroker, you're lucky that Dave doesn't get more preferential treatment than he is right now.
    – user606723
    Commented Jan 16, 2013 at 21:46
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    @user606723 well we can go on about that but that discussion isn't affecting the question in any way. :)
    – Wroker
    Commented Jan 17, 2013 at 5:09

I'll admit - this one is going to be culturally dependant. As a US citizen and employee of a US business, I may not have the depth for it, but here's a shot.

Your goal - since it sounds like generally you like your job and your company - is to get everyone on the same scale. It sounds like you don't really care if you and your fellow employees (non-family) get money as good as Dave or if Dave get's the same deal you get and gets paid much less. The hardship is the unfairness - you have more experience, and thus provide more value to the company, but you are paid much less.

In a US company, I've seen employees get pretty blunt about this - depending on the location in the US, we can be pretty blunt about speaking up when something violates written policy and when pay is not equal in comparison to company contribution. I've also seen people do as Kate mentions and refuse to work overtime because they no longer see a value in it.

I'm not so sure the same approach would work in noticeably different culture, however, where the manager/employee relationship can have a much bigger power distance. In a case where I'm uncertain, my general approach is to start by asking questions and stating facts. I'd find a private time to talk to 1 or more of the owners and go through the problems:

  • Dave has much less experience
  • Everyone works X amount of overtime
  • Dave gets paid for overtime, so Dave makes Y
  • Everyone else does not, and so make around 1/2 of Y

Why is this? What is Dave doing that is seen as more valueable to the company? Is this work that everyone could take on and reap reward equally? How could company practices be changed to pay everyone more fairly?

Rather than demanding, I'd start with asking these sorts of questions. It at least lets management consider and attempt to provide an answer or justification. You'll know your culture better than I will on how far you can push. If I didn't like the justification provided - I'd argue back, but that's US culture... It does vary.

The other question is always market wage - if you're still making more than the average in your area, that will affect whether you want to continue to put in overtime, stop the overtime and see what happens, or look for a new job. Given that you are a small company and you all work together closely, you are in a good position to band together with others in the same boat. But remember that the power of unity may only last so long... different people are always going to see things slightly differently and at some point all the underpaid people may or may not be in agreement on what to do.

  • You are right, it is culturally dependent. I have no qualms about what he might be getting from the company, I trust my employers enough to be sure that they're fair with that. Dave doesn't get paid for overtime, the extra amount he earns is from the freelancing.
    – Wroker
    Commented Jan 16, 2013 at 19:15

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