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How do I get some work rights back, without tattling on a coworker?
November 28, 2012 8:44 PM   Subscribe

I was told that I couldn't freelance outside of my company. I said ok. Then I saw a co-worker freelancing outside of our company. What gives?

I was a writer before I became a staff editor at my current company (a mid-sized corporation). When I was hired, I was told by my manager (who has since left the company) that I could keep on freelancing, but the first time I wrote a freelance article again, someone in another department told upper management. My current manager then told me that freelancing in the same industry wasn't allowed. I was fine with this, until I saw a co-worker, also a full-time employee with the same job title, write a big piece in the industry we cover, for another publication.

So, how do I tell my manager and get my freelance rights back? Will this end up hurting that other employee (I can't imagine they don't know about his piece though)? Should I just start writing again and see what happens? My one-year evaluation is coming up this month -- should I bring it up then? Also, I don't believe I signed a non-compete clause, though advice on bringing that up would be helpful too. I had a growing reputation as a writer before I took this job (which is why I was recruited and hired for this job!) so I would love to keep my name out there any way I can.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
There are plenty of reasons why your co-worker might be allowed to (seniority; grandfather clause; he negotiated better than you). Very few of them will be compelling reasons that you should be allowed to (as we have to tell our kids, life isn't fair). Your evaluation does give you a chance to renegotiate your situation, but your co-worker's situation isn't relevant. Ask your manager whether you can start freelancing, and mention all your reasons for wanting to do it and why the company would be better off for you to do it. If your manager says no, drop it.

Don't tattle. It won't help you, and it may well hurt you.
posted by Etrigan at 9:04 PM on November 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


The most invisible way is to ask during your review. If they approve, get it in writing this time.
posted by rhizome at 9:05 PM on November 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's entirely possible that Other Employee has a different contract than you do and has explicit permission.

Seconding rhizome's advice of brining it up at review and getting it in writing. Do you have anything on paper/email/etc from the previous manager that indicates permission given? Bring that to the review. Also scour your employment contract and employee handbook (if you have one) before the review to see what evidence already exists for or against freelance work. If there was an email where your current manager nixed your freelance work, bring that too.

If you don't have regular reviews, ask for one.

I would definitely not out Other Employee by name. There's no way that will do you (or them) any good. I might consider saying something like "Other employees are freelancing." without naming names, but it would depend on what kid of people are managing you and if there is the slightest change they'll hold it against you for witholding names or use it as an excuse to clean house.

At future jobs don't be afraid to explicitly ask for a contract that allows what you want, and cross out sections that you don't like.
posted by Ookseer at 9:29 PM on November 28, 2012


Maybe your colleague was given the same permission you were under the old policy. Maybe your colleague saw your freelance piece appear, figured that must be OK, published his, and has now been quietly told that's not allowed, but no one mentioned it publicly, so now you want to do it again.

I don't think that's all that likely--I'm just pointing out how much we can't know about what's happened here. Fortunately, what to do about it is simple.

It should be fine to ask your manager about the policy: whether it has evolved, what kinds of topics and venues are covered, how you can keep putting your name out there without causing a problem, etc. I would recommend going out of your way not to sound, you know, whiny or entitled or jealous or back-stabby. I'm not saying your post gives any evidence you might--it's just important to be so obviously good-natured about it that your manager has no room for a negative interpretation.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:29 PM on November 28, 2012


Do you get on okay with the other employee? Ask that person how he/she managed it - do they have an explicit agreement that they can freelance, or just an understanding that the right person will look the other way, or was it somehow authorized (for that particular topic/article/journal)? It's all in how you phrase it - you're not whining that it's unfair, you're not threatening to out or complain about the other writer, you're not acting all jealous. You're asking someone successful for advice on how you can do something like what they did.
posted by aimedwander at 10:06 PM on November 28, 2012 [7 favorites]


When I was hired, I was told by my manager (who has since left the company) that I could keep on freelancing, but the first time I wrote a freelance article again, someone in another department told upper management. My current manager then told me that freelancing in the same industry wasn't allowed.

I had a growing reputation as a writer before I took this job (which is why I was recruited and hired for this job!) so I would love to keep my name out there any way I can.

You have a WAY better argument than "I should get to freelance because my coworker did it." Forget about the rules, look at the motivations. Upper management doesn't want their employees to do anything that will cost them profit. And your manager doesn't want to look foolish to upper management.

Therefore, sell your manager on why your freelance work makes you more valuable to the company and does not expose the company to risk or reduced income.

They recruited you for your talent and your reputation as a writer. In order to maintain both of those things, you need to keep your hand in the freelance world as a writer. Don't say that you would keep your name out there "any way you can" -- float some realistic scenarios for selective higher-level work that you could get. Explain how this benefits them. I don't mean a promise to shill for the company, I mean things like how your professional reputation/expertise lends them greater credibility, etc.

Also address the potential for conflict of interest with examples of that type of work you would not accept, and the type of work that you would seek. Explain that since you're an editor for them, your freelance writing jobs are not competition. Reiterate that you will not be using company time or resources to do freelance work.
posted by desuetude at 10:46 PM on November 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Is there a reason you couldn't use a pen name in your byline and then link to your personal blog/other writing with a generic "visit the author's website [hyperlink]" type credit at the bottom? Unless they're using Bots to scan the Internet or some other crazy monitoring on their employees, you can just casually mention this option during your review process and probably get buy-in from your manager. Boom, problem solved.

I know literally tons of writers who have done this; editors and major contributors for publications owned by various corporations don't usually like their names showing up all over a competitor's site or monthly publication for obvious reasons, and in some cases could've cost them a book deal. But you have to take the high road/adult approach like desuetude suggests in making your case, because "he gets to do it, why not ME? It's only fair to let me freelance if he's doing it, too" isn't going to get the results you're hoping for here.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 11:07 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


"So, how do I tell my manager and get my freelance rights back? "

Really this seems to be the wrong question. If you haven't signed anything away then really they have no right to demand that you don't do freelance work. What right do they have to control what you do and do not do outside company time?

Just start writing again and if they complain ask to see where you gave away these rights exactly - although you might want to wait until after the review.

Employers generally will attempt to exploit you above and beyond what they have a resonable right to with no compensation. Stand up for yourself.
posted by mary8nne at 8:32 AM on November 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


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