Pro-bono jobs are done without a fee.  Or perhaps at some concessional fee such as meeting basic costs but not time and labour.  Do not assume that because you are gifting your skills and resources, those that might make a claim against you will take an equally charitable approach.  Your responsibilities are the same, and the other risks remain the same, regardless of whether fees are paid or not.

“PJs”  (private jobs) are a time-honoured way that employees widen their experience or carry out work for friends and family.  An employee acting in the “normal course of their employment” would generally be protected by the employer’s PI cover:  that would exclude PJs.  An employee doing work on their own account will be carrying the risk, and it is up to them whether they are insured or not.

But the problem is that in the event of a claim, the employer – even if unaware of the project – is likely to be in the claimant’s cross-hairs.  Employers should deal with these matters in their staff terms of engagement.  Written consent of the directors should be a precondition for staff to engage in related business interests, and all subsequent arrangements should be in writing:  a congenial/collegial chat is not sufficient.

The employer, if allowing staff to carry out PJs, should:

  • Remind such staff of the risks of carrying out professional work without the protection of insurance;  and of the necessity to meet the requirements of the NZRAB Code of Ethics.
  • Insist that the client is made aware that the practice is not involved in the project – perhaps by drafting a letter to the client – and should keep a written copy of that communication.
  • Make clear that there must be no use of office reputation and/or intellectual property, materials, addresses, details, resources, staff, or management.
  • Confirm that using your firm in any way comes as a cost to the firm which could either be classed as stealing or employee benefit, as may be agreed (or not).
  • Watch out for watermarks on prints, email signatures, digital files, timesheet records, etc..
  • Require that any and all communications in respect of the project should be through a job-specific email address, and not refer to or be recorded in or be part of the office system.

The better course of action may be to encourage the employee to bring the project into the office, along with whatever arrangements might be required in respect of fee-sharing or rewards, including the level of responsibility within the firm for that job.  The firm still needs to take care in monitoring actions and communications between employee and client:  there is the likelihood some will be “informal” and outside usual office circumstances.