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Got A Secret?

When do you tell your current boss about your new business?

You've got a job, but you want to start your own business. When do you tell your boss about your plans? There's no hard rule about the timing of your announcement, says Tim Fedele, a labor and employment attorney with Strassburger McKenna Gutnick & Potter in Pittsburgh.

Begin by determining exactly where you stand from a legal perspective. Fedele suggests taking all employment-related contracts you've signed along with your employee hand-book to an attorney. A lawyer can look over those documents, and let you know whether or not you're violating any part of the agreements.

In most cases, you can be fired for starting your own business. "Most states are at-will employment states, meaning you can be fired for any or no reason at all, as long as there's no discrimination taking place," says Fedele.

If your business will compete with your employer, it's reasonable to expect you'll be shown the door as soon as your intentions are known, so be prepared.

What about a part-time business you plan to operate on the side? "Some employers have what many states call 'anti-moonlighting' rules. Depending on your position in the company, they may not want you to devote your business interests elsewhere," Fedele says.

Another consideration: Some employers won't object if you market your new products to your co-workers; others have strict rules against workplace solicitation.

Do your homework. And above all, Fedele suggests, always let fairness be your guide.

This story appears in the August 2000 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »