When Your Tech Is off the Clock
April 9, 2007
Performing jobs on the side is a common practice for workers seeking to earn extra income utilizing their acquired skills. It is not unusual to see people working way beyond their normal 40-hour workweek schedule in order to make ends meet. If side jobs don’t infringe on an employee’s regular job duties or harm the employer he or she works for there should be nothing wrong with performing them, right? But should side jobs be encouraged? Therein lies the rub for some people.
A new Website is making its debut that uses the slogan “Where skilled trades people do work on the SIDE.” It has raised some eyebrows among HVAC professionals. The Website, www.sidejobtrader.com, is looking for trades people to advertise, “the type of side work they specialize in and the areas they serve” in order to secure work from home and business owners.
“Side Job Trader is first and foremost about skilled tradespeople,” said spokesperson Paula Stoffregen. “Our goal is not to be enamored by contractors, nor is to have employees of contractors competing against them for business.
“We believe that contractors can utilize Side Job Trader as an effective tool for recruiting skilled tradespeople, or even to secure additional advertising.”
The Website has already generated interest among HVAC contractors. One decided to register his business just to see what people are using the site. “I am the employer just checking this site out to see if it would really get any traffic,” said Terry Ohlman of Action Air, Midland, Texas. “I think homeowners are going to get screwed if they use this site.”
One tech, J.C. Aiello of Milne Plumbing & Heating, Manchester, Maine, said he gets approached all of the time to do side jobs and even considered doing some - before he realized that the cost of doing this type of work was too expensive.
“I bought my own insurance for a while and it wasn’t cheap, but I now realize it wasn’t enough,” he said. “If an outhouse burns down around here, it’s over $300,000 to replace. If you do side work and don’t carry at least $1 million in coverage, you’re a fool!
“I’ve found the right job and the right employer. I also value my time too much now to even consider it. If people sue me, I don’t deserve to be in the industry. If the customer can’t afford the company you work for, they can’t afford you.”
WHOSE RIGHT IS IT ANYWAY?Should an employer have the right to restrict what his or her employees do in their free time? One business owner, who preferred to remain anonymous for this article, said, “I really don’t have a problem with it. As long as they’re not using the company name, vehicles or inventory, and they remember who puts most of the bread on their table, they’re free to do whatever they want on their own free time.
“If techs are going to do side work, all we ask is they don’t try to steal our accounts and to carry our business cards for referrals on work they don’t want to do, or are unable to do. We’ve gotten quite a number of new accounts this way. Side work is also a great educational experience too, teaching techs just what it takes to keep a business like this going.
“If a tech is really talented and enterprising, you’d better be good to him because he may one day be your competition. If you worked with him - even encouraged him - while he was your employee, one day you may form a business alliance, partnership, merge, buy him out, or explore other bigger and better opportunities with him.”
Dave Yates of FW Behler Inc., York, Pa., knows that side work is a way of life. But he also adds some warnings for employees. “Virtually everyone does some side jobs and I’m not ever going to try to eliminate that,” he said. “But I won’t tolerate stealing either, so no working side jobs for our customers. Period. The same goes for our trucks and company tools. We pay for the wear and tear on our jobs, not the moonlight jobs.
“Do we make exceptions? Sure do. But the employees know they need to ask first. I once had a guy working for me who ran an ad in the paper. He said he gave 24/7/365 service. Funny, but I thought he was working for our company at least eight out of those 24 hours. He was officially ‘in business’ just minutes later. Consumers are always looking for a bargain and will toss common sense aside in that pursuit.
“It’s not the skills I’d be worried about so much as it would be the insurance and liability issues. If you hire a side jobber and they get hurt while working for you, guess what? You’re on the hook for their disability in my state. The same goes for us if we hire a sub and he is not properly insured. Then both of us are on the hook.”
Side Job Trader’s Soffregen said, “Generally some contractors or companies have a code of conduct that is agreed to by their employees. For example, they may sign an agreement with their company that has a policy discouraging or approving (with conditions) freelance or side work. We have always presumed that companies have guidelines that must be followed.”
She included the policy of one company she has been in contact with:
Outside Activities: Freelance Work. It is the policy of ABC Sample Co. that employees shall not have a second job that encroaches on the time or attention that should be devoted to work duties; adversely affects the quality of work performed; competes with ABC Sample Co.’s activities; implies sponsorship or support by the company of the outside employment or organization; or adversely affects the reputation of ABC Sample Co. If you perform side work or have another job, be sure that you do not use company time, facilities, resources, or supplies for such work.
Soffregen noted that employees who are not on company time, and are not using that company’s resources, should feel free to utilize their skills or hobbies during their free time as they so choose. “Moreover, we do not state that everyone that advertises with us will be an employee of a contractor,” she said. “They may be a person who has successfully completed a trade program and may choose to use Side Job Trader as a stepping stone to become a contractor. It could be someone who is retired and cannot seem to secure employment because of his age, or even a contractor who is temporarily out of work because of a slow economy in his/her area.
“Many of the tradespeople you will find on Side Job Trader have a significant range of skills, and may be more likely to perform more than one trade that should not conflict with their day jobs.”
Contractor Bob Haak of Black-Haak Heating Inc., Greenville, Wis., said his company has no gray area when it comes to side jobs. “Our employee manual states if an employee does any side work, they will be fired,” he said. “That means on the spot, no question, no chance of recourse.”
Ohlman said, “I don’t know about other states, but in Texas just by advertising their name and service on this Website they’ve broken the law if they don’t hold a contractor’s license and are not insured.”
A HOMEOWNER'S PERSPECTIVEPerry Holzman runs a marketing company in Two Rivers, Wis., “on the side.” He is also a homeowner and an outspoken supporter of side jobbers. He recently added his comments to a side job thread on “The Wall” at www.heatinghelp.com.
“There are limits on what you can restrict your employees from doing,” he said. “They can’t do anything on the side that directly affects your customers. True. That is grounds for firing with or without a signed document.
“But they could develop their own customers completely independently. I doubt there is a court in this land that would hold that kind of activity as interfering with their job as long as it was properly done, which includes them having the right permits, licenses, and insurance to do what they do.
“Not everyone is meant to be an employee forever - and people need to learn some things about how to run a business by doing side jobs while they have their regular job. If they are really willing to try to do things right and take their lumps as they learn, what beef do you really have?”
Holzman added that people’s reasons for wanting side jobs is legitimate, citing three key factors:
1. Do they just need more cash? In that case why aren’t employers providing the work or pay they need?
2. They want to learn how to run their own business and are willing to invest their time and money into learning and make some extra money to boot. In that case, why don’t employers support them in their quest? Chances are good that they may be able to help their employers in return down the road.
3. They just want to make some easy extra money on the side by grabbing some gravy work and not worrying about permits, insurance, etc.
“In the last factor, employers have my support in firing them,” he said. “Oh, and I run a side business too. My supervisor and manager at work know that I do. And as long as I get my job done at work, they don’t care. In fact, they are supportive.”
Publication date: 04/09/2007