I'm a developer at a small company. Sometimes I'm offered extra cash for freelance work from previous employers or on odd jobs that I could do after hours without encroaching on my full time job in any way.

Unfortunately my manager has explicitly forbidden me from working on any side projects. The reason he says is that if I have any free time at all in my life, even on weekends, they should be spent working for his company.

My argument is that my weekends are my time, so I should be able to do what I want. Secondly, I'd broaden my skills with a variety of different problems I wouldn't otherwise see, rather than just staring at the same project all year long. It would actually make me a more experienced programmer and help my full time job.

Everyone else seems to be doing freelance work on the side and making extra cash, but I don't want to rat them out. What other motivation could I use to help my boss see that it's not such a bad thing?

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    Your boss has absolutely no ground to stand on unless you contractually agreed to something. – instanceofTom Jan 20 '11 at 19:49
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    Do what you want. Does he pay you for 24/7 work? – DexterW Jan 20 '11 at 20:12
  • Depends on what country you are in - the boss could be quite justified. See answer below. – quickly_now Jan 21 '11 at 4:09
  • Joel has the best answer about why the company wants to restrict your outside activities. answers.onstartups.com/q/19422/5733 – Erik Feb 12 '11 at 6:50
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    This question appears to be off-topic because correct answers rely upon local laws and regulations. A high quality answer would require more information than what could be reasonably expected for this site. – user53019 Dec 17 '13 at 13:38

10 Answers 10


The reason he says is that if I have any free time at all in my life, even on weekends, they should be spent working for his company.

Quit the company NOW!

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    +1 That's very extreme. I believe it is in Inda? – user2567 Jan 20 '11 at 6:54
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    The root of the issue is that he's getting other offers of work already, so getting another job shouldn't be that hard. – Garry Jan 20 '11 at 9:22
  • Unless you have an extremely good salary, this it your best move (and even then, it's only a good idea to stay where you are short-term because a boss with this attitude will suffocate you if he can). – Inaimathi Jan 21 '11 at 3:01
  • Would love to quit, but I'd lose substantial share options. I also feel quite attached to the project. I really don't want to leave if I can help it. – user13739 Jan 22 '11 at 1:28

I know "quit now!" tends to get thrown out quite a bit around here, but in reality you're unlikely to convince your manager to allow this even with the most persuasive of arguments. After all, there's nothing in it for him to allow you to do this.

Your only real options are:

  1. Do it anyway, and hope he doesn't find out
  2. Don't do it and give up the potential income or,
  3. Quit

I would suggest you check your employment contract to see whether this kind of thing is explicitly mentioned or not. Consult a lawyer if you're really not sure, but depending on where you live, you might be able to do it anyway, regardless of what your manager expects.

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Is such restriction on a contract?

Explicitly?, if not, just do whatever the hell you want, they don't own you, probably the problem is not the company but your manager.

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    +1 Sounds like an 'I-don't-want-good-passionate-devs-at-my-company'. To harsh to be a Company Policy. Maybe call the police (or your bosses boss) and let them know about the situation? – Tom Jan 21 '11 at 2:35
  • Depends on country. Under a common-law legal system it does not have to be in a contract to be forbidden or shaky ground. – quickly_now Jan 21 '11 at 4:10

If you haven't signed a contract that explicitly forbids you from doing contract work then I don't see the problem. You just need to be aware of any none-compete agreements or intellectual property clauses that you agreed to.

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Tell your manager that if he has any extra cash, he should give it to you.

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As a full-time employee, your company sets the terms of your employment. Their position is a valid one, and I don't expect you can change the policy by persuasion. If you spend any of your at-work time on outside projects, or use any of the company's resources on those projects, the company has a legal claim that it is their property. Even if you do something on your own time with your own resources, many employment contracts state that the company owns anything that you produce. So that killer IPhone app you built on the weekend could be the property of your employer.

You should be expanding your skills on your own time anyway, and not just because you are getting paid for it.

That's one of the trade-offs to being a full-time employee vs a contractor. You get a nice steady paycheck, but you have to play by their rules.

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    " Even if you do something on your own time with your own resources, many employment contracts state that the company owns anything that you produce" - Wow that sounds nasty, if I ever saw that in ,possibly employee, contract I would say "No" right away – artjom Jan 20 '11 at 7:10
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    @artjomka: Or line out those provisions before signing. – Chris Jester-Young Jan 20 '11 at 13:29
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    -1 for "Their position is a valid one," Their position is not valid. They can tell you what to do in 8 hours a day, 5 days a week (or however many you agreed on), but they have no say whatsoever in what you do outside that time. An employee is not a slave. – Kristof Provost Jan 20 '11 at 20:13
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    +1 I don't think these people have had the displeasure of working with co-workers who have decided to do "side work". "side work" quickly turns into "thinking about it while I'm actually at work" which almost always transforms into "I'm taking calls from my side-boss to trouble shoot issues while I'm at my real job". It's nearly impossible to keep the two separate, and I don't want you on my team if you're distracted all day. – Mike M. Jan 20 '11 at 21:57
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    @Kristov The employee is not a slave because she doesn't HAVE to work at such a place. She may choose to be employed under the employer's conditions, or she may choose not to be employed there. She may require additional compensation in exchange for agreeing to such a restriction. Just because you don't agree with their position doesn't make it invalid. It's just a disqualifier for you, and likely many others. And actions on your own time can definitely be restricted by your employer. Many contracts have 'morals' clauses that prohibit certain behavior that could reflect poorly on the company. – Erik Jan 20 '11 at 22:19

What other motivation could I use to help my boss see that it's not such a bad thing?

You cannot convince him, so the only recourse for you will be to leave.

If you are in the US, in the absence of a union contract to the contrary, you are by law an exempt employee (which means "exempt from overtime").

29 U.S.C. ยง 213 a(17) any employee who is a computer systems analyst, computer programmer, software engineer, or other similarly skilled worker...


As an exempt employee, you are supposed to be thinking about work all the time. Which is why mismanagers are not all that concerned about demanding you work long extra hours and weekends. And why they don't want you working on anything other than their own issues.

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"I'd broaden my skills with a variety of different problems I wouldn't otherwise see" - Absolutely goddamn right, by personal experience!

You realize the value of the knowledge gained and its applicability to unrelated projects, only in hindsight. But their benefit cannot be doubted. They're a great way of forcing one's mind to do out of the box thinking, which in theory all companies and managers praise to high heaven!

So this should be the main point of persuasion since it talks about mutual interest, though you personally may be motivated by the extra cash aspect, too.

I'd suggest

1) doing one or two carefully selected projects that are in your area of interest and can increase your skills - if it's legal to do so. Then show your manager objectively how it helped your current projects. They really do help, even if it's many months down the line.

2) take a 1 month sabbatical and do them. Then come back and tell the manager how you benefited.

Good luck.

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Depending on what country you are in and the legal system, the boss could be right.

If you are in a country where the legal system is descended from English common law (eg UK, Australia, some parts of USA unless legislated away, MAYBE India) then your employment falls under some legal principles going back about 800 or so years.

Essentially this dictates that the employer owns the output you make, especially, eg Intellectual Property. This applies irrespective of whether done in "working hours" or not.

Many employers will therefore agree to forgo their rights if the work you do "out of hours" is not directly competing - basically if it is unrelated to your employment.

So for example, working for a programming house during the day and stacking shelves at in the supermarket at night is not usually a big deal. But working for another coding house fits into the land of conflict-of-interest, and you have to decide which one you want to work for (even if one of them is just yourself).

You are right to inform the boss and seek approval. The boss may or may not be reasonable in withholding approval (thats not really for us to know - we don't have all the circumstances).

However, just going ahead and doing it anyhow MAY land you later in some difficulties, especially seeing as you asked and were refused. (This is the difference between ignorance and negligence.)

Be careful.

I realise that there will be some who read this and don't like the message. Anybody know a lawyer - I'm happy to be corrected by somebody more knowledgeable. This is the situation as I understand it, liking it or otherwise is not relevant.

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Over 30 years ago, in 1978, I had just gotten an Apple II and wanted to do some coding on it in my spare time (all in 6502 assembler of course) and sell the programs through a publisher.

I casually let my manager know I was doing this, and he said in effect "no way, we own you."

I went out and got my first contract job, then quit my regular job. The contract job paid enough so I could spend 1/3 of my work time programming the Apple II -- much more time than I had originally planned on spending. Within a year I was making a full-time living off the royalties on my Apple II software. I have been freelancing ever since.

So -- find a job where you can freelance in your spare time, and then quit your current job.

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