Interpretation and the Gig Economy

This week I had the pleasure of presenting at the National Association for Interpretation’s national conference in Denver, CO.

For the first time, I gathered questions in real-time using an interactive online tool ( It was good fun, but I wasn’t able to answer all the questions in a one-hour session. Over the next few weeks, I will answer the questions I received, starting with…

How to deal with contracts while having a day job – will your employer fire you for doing contract work?

If still employed how do you navigate conflicts of interest between freelance jobs and your main employment?

First, it is generally perfectly legal to moonlight or have supplemental income outside your job. Your employer doesn’t own your life nor your choices outside your job. That said, it is of course your responsibility to avoid conflict of interest in your job.

Conflict of interest arises when you use your employment to enrich yourself.

That conflict usually arises in one of the following forms:

  • Using your employer’s equipment and facilities to enrich yourself.
    • You can’t use your office computer, your office photocopier, your desk, or anything else that belongs to your employer in your side gig.
  • Using your employer’s time to enrich yourself.
    • No, you can’t squeeze in a half-hour of freelance time when you’re on your employer’s clock, even if you’ve got all your work done for the day.
  • Using your employer’s contacts and relationships to enrich yourself.
    • You can’t call up a client or partner from work and offer your services to them as a freelancer—even for a seemingly unrelated project. Keep your relationships and your clients entirely separate.
  • Using your employer’s intellectual property to enrich yourself
    • Work you have produced for your employer generally belongs to your employer, though a lawyer might be able to navigate any gray areas here. You can’t take an interpretive script, an interpretive plan, a character you created, etc and market them to a client under your own banner.

Are you getting the picture?

That said, your employer doesn’t own your skills, your talent, your intellect, or your profession. They belong to you and you are free to use them as you see fit. Just don’t put yourself in conflict of interest.

In my case, I spent a few years building up clients and contracts before I cut the cord from my employer. A the time, I was employed by a federal agency on the west coast. My clients were: a municipal government one province away; a zoo one province away; a local aquarium; a science centre one province away.

It takes time to build up your materials and your contacts as a freelancer. That’s why I advise not cutting the cord from your employer without a few contracts under your belt and without a client network.

Non-competition agreements

It is rare in our profession to be asked to sign a non-competition agreement: a contract that says you will not work at a competing business within x months or x kilometres after leaving a job. I have known one colleague who signed one while working at a small zoo in a competitive tourism market. There is much discussion online about how legal/defensible these agreements are. If in doubt, ask a lawyer.

For Next Week’s Column

Is it gauche to ask how much money you can make? In a broad sense?

How do I know when it’s time to cut the cord?

What to know about Insurance; costs, liability risk to yourself?

Where do you start to look for contracts?

How can I find mentors who might be willing to share advice or guidance?

What advice would you give to a seasonal employee who is still developing their resume and to eventually be in a position to be freelance.

Besides the small business bureau, who else do you recommend reaching out to to figure out the business (business structure, etc.) side of things?

Is this a good option for supplemental income in retirement?

How long did it take you to fully, successfully transition from employment to freelancing?

Do you handle visual consulting work as well as writing?

Have you ever had to handle a bad review somewhere on the internet? I’m not sure if there is a thing for that..interpreters yelp? 😅

How do you deal with payment?

One Comment

  1. Sylvie Binette

    As well, one important thing regarding the conflict of interest is to look at the policy that your employer has. It usually provides guidelines as to what one can or cannot do. However in saying that , one reckons that in reality there are lots of grey zones which are often interpreted differently by management, human resources, your colleague , you or even sometimes across departments of one workplace.

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