When you leave a job, there are some obvious things you take with you: your mug in the break room, your family photos on your desk, your good pens that you bought from home that everyone likes to steal. There are some things you usually need to leave: your company computer, your access badge, your office phone. However, some people might think that they can take the actual work product that they created for their job while employed. This is where you can enter some really murky territory.
This blog will explore employee work product, which is a concept within employment law. Work product is not to be confused with Intellectual Property, which is a separate area of law.
Put simply, work product is anything that an employee creates for their employer during the course of employment. The default rule, absent some other provision in an employment contract, is that your employer owns whatever work product you created for them while employed. For example, if you wrote a really stellar, lengthy, and involved report while working somewhere, that employer owns that report, even after you leave. You might still use it as a writing sample and boast about it on your resume, but you should not delete the file from the company’s database or transfer the credits to yourself. If you work in product development and created the recipe for your employer’s best-selling menu item, your employer owns the recipe to that item, not you. Again, you might boast going forward that you came up with and developed that recipe, but it still belongs to your employer. They will continue to offer that product after you leave and use the recipe that you created even in your absence.
What about work product created beyond the scope of your job duties? Say you were voluntold to create a handbook for a program you don’t run because the company wants it to be more organized. Even if you create something beyond the scope of your job duties, if you created it for your employer while employed, it belongs to them.
But what about the things that have nothing to do with your employer? Say you’re a talented seamstress and work for a clothing brand to create their garments. And because you’re so talented, you make your own clothes at home outside of work hours using your own sewing machine. Your personal items created at home on your personal equipment belong to you, even if it requires skill similar to the skills you use at work. But an employer very well may try to claim the opposite, especially with jobs that don’t have defined work hours, an office away from home, or separate equipment provided by the employer. It is worth consulting with an attorney to protect yourself in a scenario like this.
Work product can be a really frustrating concept. After all, why should someone else own the things you’ve worked so hard on? The good news is work product provisions can be negotiable—the above just explains general default rules. Also, real life is rarely as concrete as the examples given above.
If you are in a work product dispute with an employer, or otherwise want to protect your work product, schedule a consultation with one of our talented Texas Employment Attorneys today. Or, if you have received a contract from a potential employer and want to know how that contract may govern any potential work product you create, schedule a Document Review.