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I recently moved over to a new company about 6 months ago, but now I've got my previous employer contacting me to do some freelance work after hours to patch a few things and add some new features to the existing system.
Here's the but; but I'm concerned with protecting myself against any sort of liability or longer term support (after all there is a reason I left). since the previous work was building control systems for industrial equipment, there's a lot of liability real quick if something went wrong, and now that I'm no longer employed by them I'm worried if something did go wrong, I would get it in the end.
Do I want to do it? No. But I've got some guilt on leaving them without another programmer to pick up the load.
So any suggestions on how to protect myself? or should I just pass and leave them hanging?
If there is significant liability in your industry, the only way you can get any protection at all is via a contract that clearly shifts the liability to your former employer. You can probably find a boiler-plater contract out there, but personally, I wouldn't be comfortable using one without a lawyer.
I'd nicely explain your desire to help, but that you can't because you're worried about liability. That answer probably won't be well-received, especially if your employer is desperate, but that's about the best you can do. Sounds like a tough situation, best of luck.
Now, if they're willing to pay enough to cover your legal costs, that might be a whole different thing. I'd bet heavily that won't be the case
I am assuming that you gave them enough notice before quitting, so there's no need for any guilt (they're exploiting your guilt).
If you were so important to them, they shouldn't have let you go (you moved out for a better pay, I suppose, among other things). They've left themselves hanging out for drying, not you. If they're not going to cover the lawyer's cost of drafting a contract that protects you, then I see it as them not wanting you to help them.
If I were you, I'd say "wish I could help you" to the company, have a hot chocolate, and call it a day.
About the pay, even without liability concerns, I would expect at least double what your salary would work out to based on 2080 hours a year. When I left an employer, they retained me for side work for four months to complete some changes they wanted and do some support for two big pushes. They paid me a little less then they would have paid a consulting agency which would have worked out more than double what I had been getting.
If you would consider doing it ask them to provide a contract limiting your liability. Ensure the rate is enough to cover having a lawyer working for you review the contract. Heck, you could even make a condition be that they reimburse you for that expense.
I'd move on. As an employee, you do have some liability in the case of gross negligence, but otherwise you are shielded. This is not so as an independent contractor with some narrow exceptions. That said, you'd need to talk with a qualified attorney. (In the end, you'd probably pay more in legal fees and liability insurance that you'd make.)
thanks for the advice. the company, and the industry in general have a bad way of pointing fingers if something happens months or years down the road. one of the main reasons for leaving after 18 years, just couldn't take it anymore.
Well, flush your guilt down the toilet -- it's their responsibility to find someone to pick up the work, not yours.
That said, if you actually want to do the work, yeah, you can put a liability clause in the contract, but at the end of the day, they've got the money for the lawyers, you don't.
A few years back I worked for a consulting agency that required us consultants to have professional liability insurance (they didn't want to be liable, and I can understand that.) It was cheap enough, and I have kept it even though I no longer work for that agency. In addition to my part time employment, I do consulting, both pro bono and for hourly, and I think it's a good thing to have.
Marc makes an excellent point with regard to liability insurance. I've carried it for so long that I frankly forgot I still have it. If you anticipate doing any freelance work, its a necessity.
Simply be careful to read the fine print, check the reputation of the insurer, and make sure the cap is high enough to cover any reasonable liability you anticipate.
All that said, from your description, it sounds like you're in a particularly litigious segment of the industry. Unless the benefits truly justify the effort and risks, I'd still advise a polite pass.
While I think its overkill in this case, incorporation can provide an additional layer of protection. I mention this in case you ever consider additional opportunities. Forming an LLC, in most states, is comparatively inexpensive and not overly difficult.
I'm going to pass on helping them after everyone's advice. the industrial equipment I controlled was mostly for controlled atmosphere fruit storage warehouses; a single room could be between 1/2 to 2 million dollars in fruit multiply that times say 20 rooms at a customer facility, same system code runs on almost 200 facility's, that's a lot of liability.
while yes, an LLC is an option, it also seem like a lot of work to setup when I just want to sever ties with the previous place and move on.
Thanks for your advice, I'll keep it in mind if I ever decide to go solo.
IYDMA, what is "cheap enough" and how much coverage does that get you?
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Is not rather the genius of history like an eternal, imploring maiden, full of fire, with a burning heart and flaming soul, humanly warm and humanly beautiful?
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Thanks, It's looking like too much of a hassle so, I'm going to let them know that I'm passing. Before I left, I said I could give some limited support until they got a new dev; like questions over the phone or emails while my memory still held.
I'm pretty sure I never said anything about touching the code, likely they just assumed it; which is odd, because that usually required being on a customer's site to test changes to the software in how it interacts with all the equipment, no simulating that.