Q. I am a graphic designer with a publishing company. A couple of months ago, I took my annual leave and decided to share my skills with graphics interns who had just been engaged by another publishing company.
Somehow, my boss got to know about it and sent me an email reminding me that we take a break to rest, not work for another organisation.
I assured her that I was offering my services for free, but wondered why my boss would be concerned about what I do while on leave.
Leave is meant for an employee’s rest and rejuvenation away from work, but can also be used to pursue personal interests. Therefore, your boss has no mandate to control what you do during your leave break.
However, most employers prohibit employees to engage in employment with other organisations and especially competition, and for a valid reason.
Employees’ talents are part of employer’s human capital and constitutes its competitive advantage because of the investment in training, development and mentorship that they provide for the employees.
It is therefore justifiable for an employer to protect the company’s interests by prohibiting its employees from using their skills while still in employment in any way to benefit other organisations, especially those that are its competitors.
As an employee, check your contract to ascertain what you can or cannot do while in the company’s employment.
Even if there is no prohibition stipulated in your contract, it is courteous to engage your boss by informing her and seeking her approval before you engage in activities outside your work which may require use of your skills with a potential competitor. This further cements your relationship with your boss as it demonstrates accountability and integrity on your part.
The issue of whether you are being compensated or not is not critical in this situation. The fundamental issue is that you are working for competition.
If you are interested in sharing your knowledge for a fee or for free, this should ideally be with an institution that is not in competition with yours, and you might want to consider an education institution. However, you must still seek approval.
Remember, Charity begins at home. Have you considered offering this training to new graphics designers who join your company?