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Access to Shop For Personal Projects Off-Hours5/30/19
This is my first post. I think that reaching out to fellow furniture makers would help me get a gauge for common industry practice.
I'll try to make this as brief as possible but I think it's important to give you guys a few details:
I'm a professional furniture maker at a small furniture firm in NYC. About a year ago I decided to make a change from the company that I started my furniture making career at. I spent almost 2 years there, and I've been at my current company about a year. Both companies are very similar in size and capacity. At my first job, the owner of the company was very open about access to the shop/machines for personal use during off hours. After 6 months there, I got a set of keys and I was given 24/7 access to the shop for personal use, even for doing side jobs on commission. I was even encouraged, by the owner and my manager, to take on commissioned pieces to get used to working at the pace of a professional shop vs furniture making school. Needless to say, it was an extremely well liked benefit by me and the other 4 furniture makers.
While I loved my time at my first job, last summer I decided that it was time for me to move on. I felt like I was stuck at the bottom of the totem pole, and I quickly found a job at another company where I was a bigger part of a smaller team. Before I took my current job, I made sure to ask whether the shop is available for personal use. It was communicated to me that yes, the shop was available off hours for personal use as long as it was scheduled in advance. I figured, maybe wrongly, that that was totally reasonable. At my first job, it was technically the case too where we had to file a piece of paper to let my boss know when we were going to be using the shop. It was a CYA formality, and never enforced.
I waited to pop the question about personal use of the shop for almost a year at my current job, because I felt it was important to build trust with the owner before asking for a set of keys. I've been given the runaround ever since. I simply do not feel like I am welcome to use the shop for personal projects. It's been told to me that I'm not allowed to be in the shop without the shop manager or finishing manager present due to insurance reasons. This isn't about me being alone in the shop. I have no problem with using the shop when one of the managers are there, but being at the mercy of someone else's schedule is a far cry from having total access like my previous job. It seems to me like personal use is allowed, but only once in a blue moon, when a manager is available, and for a few hours at a time. It's hard to complete complex or large personal projects under those constraints.
Regardless of the fact that I was told otherwise before I was hired, I'd like to know what other people's experiences are in these situations. Is it a shop by shop thing? Is it generally industry practice to let employees have open access during off hours? Or, was my first job the exception rather than the rule?
Thanks so much for your help!
Unless the agreement at the new shop was in writing, you have to play by there rules.
You say "Personal use," but then you mention Commission sales. That is not Personal use, that is business use. Personal use would mean doing something for your own home or a gift for a family member or friend.
There is no way I would ever let any employee use my shop for producing a product for sale. You want to sell furniture, learn the true cost of being in business.
Put your self in your boss's position. He likely has hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in his business. You want to use his shop space, machinery & misc tools (all of which need maintenance), saw blades, router bits, shaper cutters & moulder knives (that all need sharpening and eventual replacement), sanding belts and paper that all need to be replaced, glue, screws, nails, staples, dowels that will be consumed, ect.
Then there's the utilities, which you'd be using since you're working after hours. And then there's the liability and worker comp insurance, which costs more than you'd imagine if you've never had to pay for it yourself.
Even if you offered to pay your boss a percentage of your commission, say 25%, it would still likely not be worth it to him.
If your skills are up to par, and people are offering you jobs that you'd like to do, it's time to go out on your own and see if you can make it. It's not easy, but that's how most of us started. Good luck.
Im with the others with regards to allowing it in the first place, how its compensated for, and so on. I wouldnt say I would never allow it but Im pretty much squarely on track with Paul that commissions and work for hire would be a really tough one and your last employer was very gracious. Most shops, including mine, would expect you to bring that work into the shop as opposed to taking it on yourself.
That said, even though they said they would allow it it would seem to be in your best interest to just let it slide if you pick up on the least bit of apprehension on their part after the fact. Maybe they were feeling good that day and mis-spoke, maybe they just tell you whatever you want to get you on board and never had the intention, who knows. Bottom line is even if they allowed it for a while and then became uncomfortable it would be their right to just say no at any point.
You can search the archives here and there are a lot of articles in the past with regards to allowing employees to use the shop and to my recollection the overarching prerogative is no thought there have always been many that do allow it. I cant say I remember responses specifically speaking to giving employees a set of their own keys to come in and work, that would be a dead no-go for me with regards to personal use.
What happens when you cut off a couple of fingers working on a commission job in their shop? It sure won't be considered workman's comp on them since you are running your own business. They might consider paying you a commission for bringing the job into the shop, but definitely not let you run a business after hours. You won't be at your best on their time if you work late into the night on a commission job. Work like that usually leads to you starting your own business and talking to their clients you did work for. Not good for the owners!
I gotta say, that as a business and shop owner myself, the mere idea of what you are saying - to use my shop at your whim for your own personal projects and even business - is beyond absurd. It speaks very loudly of the obscene level of entitlement and unreasonable expectations of this younger generation. It is immature, and selfish to expect such "benefits" to you when you clearly have no idea of the multitude of responsibilities, expenses and liabilities that go with being a shop owner/operator.
I was allowed to use my employers' shops for personal projects but side jobs would definitely have been out. It was a nice perk but certainly not something I felt entitled to. Your earlier situation sounds exceptional.
I intended from the get-go to have my own shop and now that I have a well-equipped one I am very protective of it.I would have to be very confident that someone would treat the equipment as their own and take responsibility for problems before I gave access, but I would do it for the right person.
I don't agree with Steve's "kids these days" rant, as you were told that you would be able to use the shop, but it is a major concession on which you can't insist. If I were you I would be looking to set up my own shop on the side.
Maybe they are not willing to trust you because you aren't trustworthy. I have long-time employees that are given shop access for personal projects, but if I felt an employee wasn't capable of handling the equipment properly, and hadn't demonstrated complete trustworthiness, I would say no. And commissioned work is never acceptable. Are any of the other workers in your shop given that privilege? If no, then there you have it. If some are, then look in the mirror.
I have always allowed my workers to use the shop. I consider it a benefit that I offer that keeps them happy. I even allow workers that have been with me a long time to do side jobs. In return I have an exceptionally loyal work force that respects me as much as I respect them. They would never abuse my property and they always insist on giving me some cash for the use of the shop even though I never ask for it and I don't need it.
Recently I had a wheel bearing go out on my boat trailer. It threatened to de-rail a weekend of halibut fishing with my buddies that I'd been planning for a while. The owner of the repair shop that I landed at whom I had never met before offered me the use of his trailer until mine was fixed. He asked for no compensation. This might seem like a small thing until you consider these are double axle trailers worth about $15,000 new, and if you know anything about salt water the idea of letting a stranger dunk your trailer in the water not knowing how many times or whether or not they were going to properly wash it afterwards is hard to comprehend. But this guy saved my weekend, repaired my trailer quickly and for a reasonable price, and has now earned my business for life. Was this a smart move on his part or foolhardy? Is it a smart move to allow employees use of your shop or foolhardy? Depends on your perspective.