Disclosing small startup on the side to your employer


This topic seems to have been discussed ad nauseum, but I wanted to get thoughts on it one last time.

I am a lawyer in a mid-sized firm. I don't have an employment agreement. I started a small start-up, just for some extra income, in a line of business (software) that's not really the same as what my employer does, although my software is targeted at lawyers.

I discussed how to disclose the start-up with some of my best friends, who are lawyers, and they said that there's no reason to disclose it; I have nothing that I'd look to gain from my employer (such as assistance); the software was developed 100% on my own time and with my own resources; I have no desire to leave my current employer; and they didn't think that there was a conflict between serving clients and my start-up.

I still think that I ought to disclose the program, just for peace of mind, but does anyone agree that it should not be disclosed?


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asked Mar 14 '11 at 10:48
1,747 points
  • You need to post what state you are in. If you don't tell us your state, then we can't actually even give you the correct advice. – Michael Pryor 13 years ago
  • Update: I disclosed it. I just don't like hiding anything- I don't like surprises. So I told it to two very senior people at my employer (who call the shots at my employer, and are in charge). They didn't care; they were complimentary and didn't seem bothered. – User6492 13 years ago
  • possible duplicate of [How do I disclose a small startup I created on the side to my employer?](http://www.brightjourney.com/q/disclose-small-startup-created-side-employer) – David Benson 13 years ago

5 Answers


Don't disclose it. As long as it does not compete with your firm, you are better off keeping quiet. No offense, but lawyers will always find a way to take a cut, even if they don't deserve it.

As you know, you should be extremely cautious with doing your side gig on company time or using company resources. After all, you work around a bunch of lawyers :)!

answered Mar 14 '11 at 10:54
Jarie Bolander
11,421 points
  • ... Other than working for yourself is unacceptable. Unfortunately you have to eat, so while you work your weekends and nights dont catch a case of Diarrhea of the mouth. Keep your mouth shut. Dont quit until your side business earns 1.5 times your salary with room to grow. Save your money, be frugal, build your business, and never be a SLAVE to anyone else again. Its not acceptable to have your livelihood depend on others. – Frank 13 years ago
  • PS, nothing more healthy for an entrepreneur then a genuine hate for the COMPANY MAN. – Frank 13 years ago


I think you should tell your employer.

When our employees tell me they have something going 'on the side', I appreciate their frankness, and it gives me a good feeling about their ethics. It also tells me they are looking for more challenge and more opportunity, which I try to accommodate. Most employers started their business 'on the side' at one point, so they understand what you are going through and maybe they can even give you some good advice if you ask for it.

Good luck with your new venture!

answered Mar 14 '11 at 13:52
Dave Feyereisen
963 points


When I assessed, it is good to disclose as long your business does not comflict with your employer's business both sides of time and resources. But if you provide the same products/services it will be real problem, and I guess that is even better because you are lawyer you are more familiar with some industry law.

Keep well with your business!!

answered Aug 22 '12 at 13:07
11 points


If your employment contract doesn't stipulate that you have to disclose it and also doesn't mention anything about ownership of ALL your work (even out of work hours), then I'd say you are in the clear and probably shouldn't bring it up. If it's really eating you up, you could tell them; I really don't see any harm coming from this either way, unless there is some sort of conflict of interest between your side project and your job.

He could say that your side project seems to be distracting you from your regular work, that's about it.

answered Mar 14 '11 at 10:54
Jason Colantuoni
437 points
  • Thanks. I don't have an employment agreement. I looked in the firm's employment manual that applies to people at my level and there is no requirement to disclose it, no assignment of IP and no "best efforts" language in it, oddly enough. If there is a time conflict, the startup will have to be put aside- there is no way I'll slack at work because of it. – User6492 13 years ago


"I still think that I ought to disclose the program, just for peace of mind."

I'd like to know more about this... what is the source of the peace of mind... that if they 'discover' it you'd get fired?... or accused?...or they'll use it against you in an evaluation?

Do you not think that others there have side businesses?

answered Mar 14 '11 at 12:26
249 points
  • "Peace of mind" due to the unknown- the start-up has a website and will be selling software online. What if the employer buys the product and then digs into ownership of the LLC, which is available through public records) and sees that I'm an owner? I just don't know what would happen, but I wouldn't want the head of the firm coming into my office and saying, "Why didn't you tell us that you started this side business? We had no idea." – User6492 13 years ago
  • Disclosing won't cure that feeling since it's unknown what their reaction is... and what others might think about. I completely understand the desire for certainty but it's not attainable and I think it's far more important to strive to see privacy as part of self-love (security). It's just plain not their business any until it is, it's not. – Randy 13 years ago
  • => CONTINUED "but I wouldn't want the head of the firm coming into my office and saying, "Why didn't you tell us that you started this side business? We had no idea." Has absolutely nothing to do him/them unless they have evidence it's interfering with your work...you are using company resources or your coming in later, etc. I would say "I've had side businesses all my life...my parents and family were very big on that... they always felt it was important to develop skills and income on multiple levels as that's just part of life training"... was there something specific you needed to know?" – Randy 13 years ago
  • => CONTINUED Such a question is only a probing question and unless there is an issue then there's none. If that person shrugs and says "oh, that's fine, just curious to learn more about my people.." then you say you're grateful for that and ask "Thank you for doing that...do you have a side business? Thinking of starting one?" See?... it's not a one way street... they breech that subject and you can go that way tot... NOT punishing them! but inquiring if you share a mutual side businesses and can build a stronger relationship! – Randy 13 years ago

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