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Is it Illegal to Work as a Freelancer?

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The short answer to this question is “maybe.” A better question would be “is working as a freelancer a fire-able offense?” Here are some things to think about if you are considering working as a freelancer in the same industry as your current full-time job.

What does your contract say?

Before you sign up through Upwork, Toptal, People Per Hour, or Freelancer, you need to check your employment agreement with your company. Your contract may spell out the company’s expectations on whether freelancing or moonlighting is acceptable or not. 

 See if you signed a non-compete clause in the myriad of paperwork you went through during the on-boarding process. Most of the time, a non-compete clause is written to protect your current company. This part of the contract keeps you from taking your previous employer’s clients, technology, or proprietary information to your new company after you part ways. 

 These non-compete clauses in your contract may cover freelancing as well. Check the wording of the document. Perhaps your non-compete clause is just for a specific geographic area. For example, if the contract says you can’t work in the telecommunications industry in Kansas or Missouri for three years after leaving your current position, does that mean you can’t work as a freelancer for a company out of Iowa?

 Also, check your contract to see if you are an at-will employee. This means you can be fired at any time and for any reason. If you are an at-will employee, be particularly careful working as a freelancer within the same industry.

Do you have professional liability insurance through your employer?

Besides checking your work contract for wording that discourages freelancing, you should also check your professional liability insurance policy that your company may have purchased on your behalf. This insurance policy will not cover any of the work that you do while performing as a freelancer. Also, the fact that your company purchased this insurance for you may indicate that they would be not happy if you worked as a freelancer.

Are you using your employer’s assets when you work as a freelancer?

You cannot use your employee car, computer, copier, phone, software, tools, or travel benefits when working as a freelancer. That would be the same as stealing from the company, and that would be grounds for dismissal.

 You also cannot use proprietary information you learned from your current company to benefit another company. This may be tricky to determine which information is proprietary or not as it is defined as “special knowledge and skills that an employee learns from a job.”

Is working as a freelancer affecting your performance at work?

Of course, your employer cannot demand that you work 24 hours a day, but they can expect that you arrive at work rested and ready to perform. If you cannot complete your work functions appropriately because you are out of energy, this is also considered stealing from the company. 

Does the freelancing project conflict with your company’s interests?

Another indicator that working as a freelancer may be a fire-able offense is if you are offering the same service to clients who could easily be your company’s customers. If you are a landscaper working for a company, but you tell potential clients you will do the work on your off-hours at a fraction of the cost, this may be grounds for dismissal. Even if you don’t use your company’s equipment and you still can perform your work during daytime hours, you are stealing clients from your employer.

 Another way freelancing may conflict with your company’s interest is if, through your full-time job, you are privy to information that can be used to benefit a company that you are working for during your off-hours. 

How much do you want to work?

Most adults are ready for bed at the end of a long day of work and personal commitments. Sure, everyone freelances for extra income, but life is short. How much of your time do you want to spend working?

The Bottom Line

There may be nothing written in your contract that would keep you from working as a freelancer. You may not use any of your company’s resources or proprietary information. You may not take clients away from your company or limit your employer’s ability to make money in any way. Even if this is the case, you may want to consider giving a head’s up to your employer on your plans of making money on the side.

This article was originally posted at Freelancing Buzz!

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