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RE: Employers Rights to your Spreadsheets

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The one employer that established the job number did make me sign an
informal agreement.  I was to develop the spreadsheets, submit them for
review, document them, debug them, and then educate others on how to use
them.  Let's just say that they were so busy, one spreadsheet never made it
through this whole process before I left the company for my current employer
(about six months time).
My current employer does conduct business with several clients and
government agencies that demand top secret communications and design
submissions.  However, the design issues that I am encountering are
identical to other tasks and do not require top secret handling.
My colleagues come to me and ask "Do you have a spreadsheet for this?" and I
allow them to use whatever I have freely.  Yes, if I leave these people and
my employer will have a copy (probably not the most current because they are
constantly being updated with better features).  As I witnessed with others
in the company, when their notice was given or they were terminated, the
vice president of operations watched these people clear out their desks to
ensure that company material or files were not removed.  I maintain a weekly
backup on the company mainframe and on my personal diskettes.  This way I
can "walk out with my property" even though they will have the mainframe
backup.  Therefore I will not lose the time invested before the last time I
backed up the files.
One way that I distinguish that these spreadsheets are my creation is by
clearly "imprinting" my name on each and every file.  I protect the sheets
with my password so nobody else can alter the original calculation (except
the input) file but me (which was a common problem at other companies - a
person would accidentally overwrite a formula and not explain what
happened).  I agree with you that if push came to shove I have no legal
claim to anything on my company computer as I am reminded everyday because I
see the following message during log-in: "Use of this computer is for
company business only" and you must click an "OK" box.  This procedure
probably means that I have no rights to anything regardless of the fact that
I am the inventor.  I would wager that the employment agreement signed when
I was hired has legal implications that reinforce this notion (i.e. the
perceived interpretation by the company).
Strictly my opinion - my employer is paying me to perform a job - to
structurally engineer buildings.  How I accomplish this task is at my
discretion as a professional engineer.  As long as I complete the project in
a timely manner it should not matter how any calculations or drawings were
created by me.  The seemingly impossible deadlines are only getting worse
everyday.  If I did not create these design spreadsheets I would probably be
unemployed or still working on that 150,000 sq. ft. school that had a design
schedule of 6 weeks to go from schematics to final documents.  

William J. Keil, P.E.


-----Original Message-----
From: Jim Kestner [mailto:jkestner(--nospam--at)somervilleinc.com]
Sent: Friday, August 13, 1999 4:20 PM
To: seaint(--nospam--at)seaint.org
Subject: Re: Employers Rights to your Spreadsheets


I am in general agreement with many points William Kiel made and my
philosphy is similar. However, I suspect if you have developed
spreadsheets or any computer program on company time, your employer can
lay claim to it. You stated "I have over 1300 hours invested" but what
portion of that time was spent during working hours and therefore time
that your employer was paying you?  Do you have a written agreement with
your employer? Does he clearly understand your position?

Do you let other engineers use your spreadsheets? Do they get to keep
them (and therefore your former employer) when you leave?

I assume that you store these on your computer at work and when you
delete them, they never really go away. Perhaps they might even be
stored on the network backup tapes, etc. They are recoverable.

I think there may be many of us in this same situation and I want to
find out how others have handled it.

Jim Kestner, P.E.
Green Bay, Wi.