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Ethical question regarding "moonlighting"

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Laura Hopkins
Ethical question regarding "moonlighting"
on Dec 21, 2011 at 12:48:04 am

I was hoping to gain some advice from others on this ethical delema.

I currently work for a small videography company editing and shooting weddings, recitals, etc. I get paid $9 an hour, for all and every event (this does not include travel time, which can take up to 10 hours, though gas is included). Basically, I work a steady 35 to 40 hours a week.

Today, while at a shoot, I made a friend. She enjoyed my style of shooting and suggested that I work with her on an upcoming project. I told her my company was booked and she suggested I do it myself during off hours. I know my boss hates moonlighting, since he's been screwed over by those in the past.

My question is, do you think it's ethical to do the job and not tell my boss? I could tell him, but I am afraid he would get mad or worse, not let me do it since I meant this potential client through a gig I was doing for him. But the simple truth is that 9 dollars an hour is barely covering my expenses. If he finds out, is the law on my side?

What do you think?

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Dave Haynie
Re: Ethical question regarding "moonlighting"
on Dec 21, 2011 at 10:27:23 am

Ethically, I have done work "on the side", but I keep it fully independent. I've been professionally employed as an Engineer (recently done video, animation, and photography for the same employer, but that wasn't the original job). The company's market is wireless networking devices, and I've done both hardware and software.

I wouldn't get into a job I found while working for the company. Period. Again, that's my ethics, not any law I know about. As far as independent jobs, I would not take on a job that's primarily related to wireless and/or networking. Some other area of software or electronics, no problem.

Legally, your time is your own when not on the clock. If you take on extra work, with your own equipment, you're usually in the clear. Even if you use company equipment in the off hours, you may be. Keep in mind that these laws vary a bit by state. But it's been fairly well documented that many famous startup companies began with after hours access to other folks equipment (Apple, for example). But it never hurts to be overly cautious.

Also, if you did sign an employment contract, read it. If it forbids certain after hours activities, it may well be over-restrictive, but you did sign it. You might wind up in court if you violate this. You certainly risk your day job.

And ethics are in the eye of the beholder. If you boss catches you "stealing" a potential client, particularly if you're not under contract (which means you're an at-will employee, see, you probably get canned.

Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer. I have gone drinking with lawyers, and I do occasionally write patents.


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Mark Suszko
Re: Ethical question regarding "moonlighting"
on Dec 21, 2011 at 4:21:51 pm

Legally, if you use your own gear and time and not your employer's, you would likely be all right.

Ethically, it is generally considered the height of professional impropriety to even discuss a side gig with anyone while working on-set for your primary employer. Doesn't mean it still doesn't happen. But I've heard of people getting fired and blackballed, for just handing out their calling card to someone while working. Some very paranoid producers might even test new hires by having some stooge tempt the new hire in this way.

I think the honorable thing to do in such situations is to tell your primary boss about the opportunity and give his company (with you) the first crack at it. If he or she is a decent sort, when they take the job, they would also give you some kind of bonus or finder's fee for bringing in the extra business. If the boss is already too booked to take it on, he or she should then tell you you are free to pursue the referral yourself, with your own resources. That you are attracting these "poaching" offers should be a signal to the boss that your reputation is getting bigger and you should be getting paid more. If they are not getting the hint without prompting, you might bring that up the next time you're negotiating your rate of pay.

Often times, when you are approached on the job by someone looking to hire you, it's because they already know you work for someone else and they don't want to pay your boss' rates. They think by hiring you direct, they can get the same level of work for less. Maybe yes, maybe no. What is highly probable though, is that if your local production community gets wind of your side-deals, it will ruin your reputation and lead to a shortage of future gigs. And if the boss hears about it from someone other than you, they will almost certainly fire you and there goes your good reference too.

Sometimes you need to pass up what looks like the easy, immediate money, because it comes attached to some deleterious future consequences. Tread carefully in this matter, and consider long-term repercussions.

Politely explain to people "bird-dogging" you that doing this while on another job is a violation of your professional etiquette. If they don't understand or respect that, consider yourself lucky that you've uncovered a potential problem client before it costs you anything.

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Chip Thome
Re: Ethical question regarding "moonlighting"
on Dec 29, 2011 at 9:35:02 am

It sounds as though you knew the company was booked and told her so, correct ??? IMO, you just covered the ethics aspect, as you are not stealing any biz any from your boss, who is booked anyways. BUT, that's the LEAST of the discussion that should be going on here.

Your boss is an IDIOT for trying to get away paying you as close to nothing as he can. There are numerous guys paying very experienced wedding shooters the same for a day rate that you make in a week !!!

If it were me and my pay rate was $9, I'd be sitting down with this person and just chatting. I'd find out what they were thinking of as far as compensation for you, and if there's a good chance for more work in the future. I would be using my own gear or that from this other person, definitely not your current boss's stuff.

IMO, the chances of you going from $9 an hour to a decent day rate with your current boss are about zero. The downside of losing a $9 an hour video job is you go to $7.50 an hour and ask people if they "want fries with that?" I'd suggest keeping your eyes and ears open, like this opportunity, as you never know where these networking connections can lead.

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Brent Dunn
Re: Ethical question regarding "moonlighting"
on Jan 5, 2012 at 7:58:17 pm

If you are working outside the workday, then it's non of his business. But, it could be conceived as a conflict of interest.

Then again, you need to ask for a raise, because at $9 per hour, what does he expect. How loyal could anybody be working for minimum wage. If he wants dedication, then pay up.

I'd ask for a raise, at least double or triple that rate.

Brent Dunn
Owner / Director / Editor
DunnRight Films
Video Marketing

Sony EX-1,
Canon 5D Mark II
Canon 7D
Mac Pro Tower, Quad Core,
with Final Cut Studio

HP i7 Quad laptop
Adobe CS-5 Production Suite

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Aaron Cadieux
Re: Ethical question regarding "moonlighting"
on Jan 23, 2012 at 3:11:19 pm


At $9 an hour, you are already very underpaid. If you didn't sign a non-compete when you started your position, then you are in the clear. If your employer has a problem with you moonlighting when you're getting paid $9 an hour, you have every right in the world to tell him/her to get bent.


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