A very interesting topic came up on the RoofersCoffeeShop.com Forum. It’s about letting your employees do side work.

There are many sides to this issue. The rub is that most of today’s roofing contractors learned the ropes by doing some side jobs.

Now, as business owners, they see what a difficult situation they could be put in if their employees do the same.

There is no easy answer. In the comments I have seen some views that are very permissive of side work and some that are adamantly against it. A business owner may point out that the side job is usually a cash job carrying no permits or insurance, so how can a legal contractor with overhead compete?

On the other side, shouldn’t a skilled roofer be able to roof their friend’s house? Then again, isn’t using an employer’s tools and supplies stealing? For example, if a roofer needs specific clothing to ensure he completes the job safely, would it be considered stealing if he borrows his employers Carhartt clothing for the job?

The issue is complicated. Even more so by the fact that some of today’s finest contractors all started out doing projects on their own time. See the comments I have gathered below and think about what policy is best for your company. Be fair and be smart.

This is quote from Terry in Pennsylvania
“I guess it all depends on to what extremes the employee will go to get the side work. Is it a friend of his or someone from his church that asked for a favor or is it one of your potential customers that you quoted at $5000 and he quoted at $3500?

Is he using your residual supplies for the job? Things that you would normally keep in stock (coil nails, felt, flashings, etc). We have a loose policy about side work. We ask to be informed about it and have no problem if it is a family member or close friend, but that is where we draw the line.”

Eric from Washington
“I take a philosophical position regarding side-jobs. It comes down to a careful reading of loyalty and abundance. Loyalty is a two-way street and I can read it quite well from either direction. I have a few hard and fast rules, but putting them aside, I can smell disloyalty a mile away anyway.

On the other hand, I don’t happen to ascribe to the notion that abundance is something reserved exclusively for the owner and I consider that attitude merely another form of disloyalty. I’m not a dog-eat-dog kind of guy. I’m not worried because “they” can’t do what I do. I want “them” to grow up strong and competent. If it’s undermining my business, it’s over. I think everybody knows what that means.”

Chuck from Alabama
It’s my opinion that side jobs are simply a part of being a roofer, a subcontractor, or a contractor. As a roofer, I have the right to roof my cousin’s house for money on a Saturday, even though I work for Mr. X through the week by the hour. As a sub, it’s the same.

The lead must not come from the company I am working for, however. As a roofer or a sub, it’s my duty to refer the company. As a contractor, it’s my duty to make sure no roofer or sub is stealing my work. But if he got the lead somewhere else and I was never going to get that lead anyway, then what difference should it make to me if he wants to make some extra cash and get a nice boost to his bankroll? Maybe the baby needs a new pair of shoes? Or mama’s car is broken down!”

Syd in New York:
”Consider the following scenario: several employees are doing side jobs on weekends and/or slow periods. They are employed by a church recommended by one of their members and do minor repairs for several years, for which they are paid directly by check.

While re-roofing the main sanctuary, the building catches on fire, despite preventative measures, including CO2 bottles, etc. Their employer has absolutely no knowledge of their activities, but lo and behold, 1-2 years later he is served w/ a lawsuit exceeding $1,000,000.

The employer has never received compensation or participated in anyway with these “side jobs”. Now, what would your reaction be if you were in his shoes?”

Clearly, the issue can be approach from many angles. How do you approach it in your business?