Freelance work by employees

The question of whether full-time employees should be able to do freelance work for other organizations is often an issue for labor laws and human resources departments, but there are ethical questions as well.

Some news outlets take the position that employees should be free to do whatever they want on their own time. So long as their activities are not linked to the name of their news organization, they should be able to work for whomever they want.

Others believe freelance assignments need to be vetted for possible conflicts of interest. For instance, if your outlet follows the objective, neutral model, work by an employee for an opinionated website or newspaper may bring into question your ability to present that employee as an objective journalist on your team. In addition, many news organizations won’t allow freelancing for competitors.

You may also want to specify that an employee’s first obligation is to her full-time employer. If big news breaks, she needs to be available, even if that means stepping out of a freelance assignment.

You may also want to control whether your employee can be identified in his freelancing material as an employee of your news outlet. Given the Internet, however, it is almost impossible to keep an affiliation with your organization from being discovered.

Finally, there is the question of whether information and images collected by one of your employees in the course of reporting for your outlet can be used in freelance work. Some organizations ban this; others allow it, as long as the information is made available to the home outlet first.

The main author of this section is Thomas Kent.

See also the modules in this project on “Community Activities,” “Freelancers, Fixers and Translators” and “Political Activities by Staff.”