|Don't ask to ask, just ask|
Disclaimer: I am NOT a lawyer. This does not constitute legal advice in any way and as always - your mileage may vary...
Preface: I work in the USA for American companies under American Federal and New York State laws locally..
What I have been told by my own legal council is that during the interview process, the job procurement process and the job orientation process - and at any time thereafter - always read every contract you are given to sign. Bring a thick black marker with you. ANYTHING you don't agree with, cross out in black marker & then initial the margin next to the change.
Do not draw attention to this, nor make any effort to hide it. If you are called on it as a matter of procedure then you say "I can't sign any of the conditions I have excluded without consulting my lawyer first." Period. Any strong-armed tactics that might therefore ensue will largely set the tone for how you would have been treated were you on the wrong end of that signed contract. I would say that in my own personal experience, a good 90% of the time they will drop it without going a single step further.
I have had to go into a round of direct negotiations however in a case where the company was about 110 employees. Due to the smaller size of the firm I had direct access to the CEO. As it turns out, not only was he a contract lawyer, he's a judge! I had to go over every single point that I excluded. (He took umbrage since he had written the contract personally.) When I rationally explained to him my position on each, he agreed with me, point by point & subsequently dropped the entire matter. It did take about 40 minutes of intense debate however.
The sort of things that you want to watch out for, especially as a programmer - are broadly phrased clauses which imply that writing code in a particular programming language is an act of competition. PERL skills that I came to the job with, and develop on my own in parallel with working at my job - as well as learned at my job - belong to me. I can not and will not be barred from practicing my chosen career because a corporation is paranoid. I can and should be barred from developing the same software for a company in direct competition with my proir employer. However, similar applications must be protected. For example, I developed e-Commerce software for a cosmetics company. I now develop e-Commerce software for a computer equipment supply company. They are extremely similar in nature, and there is no question that I am leveraging my skillset from one job at the next. However, aside from the original company being defunct now, they were never in direct competition with one another. So I'm in the clear. But only because when I worked for the original company I had the foresight to go through that contract with a marker also.
Tilly's tale raised one point to spotlight status for all of us at the Monastery. .. And the poll in today's voting booth underlines it: "I surf PM during...work hours?" What about Open Source Projects?
I submit to you that it all comes down to where you draw the line. It's as important as how you seperate your own funds from your family business's funds for when you do your taxes. It's all about staving off the audit... If you only work on these projects on your own time - then you're in the clear. But that requires discipline & a clearly defined methodology. I for one, bring in my own laptop to work. I prefer using by TiBook running OS/X to develop with then the NT box they stuck on my desk. Right there I'm mixing codebase access. So I have everything packaged nicely & in seperate directories. I also employ a time-tracking system for when I'm working on what project. This enables me to clearly seperate personal work from business work.
But, of course, the minute you use their network to access anything personal - you have crossed the line.
I don't think I am alone in promoting Perlmonks to coworkers. As such it becomes recognized as a necessary 'evil' to companies. You get it taken off the filter list so you can get access & you get your manager/director to undertand that participating in the community only gives back to you when you need a problem solved. Then you listen carefullly as they read you the riot act about disseminating Trade Secrets. You remind him that you already had to sign your life away when you were hired if you did something just that stupid. And then everything calms down...
But this remains a grey area. Clearly we all contribute to what might be thought of as Open Source licensed PERL development information. If you write that node from home it is clearly different than if you wrote it at work. But only their own network logs could possibly track/legally prove that.
So now we split hairs about if you write a node asking a question for a problem at work that needs solving - that would seem to be fair conduct - but say ... me writing this node right now...probably not....
And while I'm getting myself into hot water right now... I have a new area of vagueness to worry about: What if your company changes it's focus after you sign the contract?
In my case, the company I work for developed software internally that they now want to turn into a marketable product and launch a sub-venture as an actual software company. Obviously I can say no more on the subject and have already probably said too much to be safe, but my own dilemma is now: the contracts I signed were designed to protect a computer supply company from competition by me - but how does it now apply to competing with a software company? Especially one where I have intrinsic knowledge of Trade Secrets, etc....
I would hope that they would need to get me to sign another contract - but since there's been no news forthcoming about that - I am duly concerned.
Wait! This isn't a Parachute, this is a Backpack!
In reply to Re: (OT) Professional Employees: who owns your thoughts?