Employer won’t give me permission to use any of the work I’ve done here

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums PORTFOLIO & RESUME Employer won’t give me permission to use any of the work I’ve done here

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    Cory Blaquiere

    I’ve searched the forum and found a few helpful threads that said everything from “best to ask first” all the way to “better to ask forgiveness…”.

    The thing is, I’ve touched base with my employer multiple times regarding the usage of work samples and even printed out a draft portfolio for him to just say “yes/no” to. He’s kept saying “I haven’t looked at it yet, I’ll get back to you” and this has been going on since 2012. This certainly feels like it could be intentional, since it’s not in his best interest to help me find a job elsewhere. I’ve pushed harder on this issue in the past and I would just be asked “why is this important, are you looking?”

    I have an interview coming up that has requested recent work samples (I’ve already included samples of work done outside the company from last year) and now I don’t know what the best course of action is. I feel like I should tell him “I do not have permission to use samples of any of my work, so I couldn’t bring anything”. I feel like it would reflect badly on me as a professional to bring hard copies regardless. But not having any work samples might hurt my chances. 

    It’s my first interview going from one employer to another, so any insight into this would be very appreciated. I should also note, I got this interview partly because I have worked with the interviewer in the past on collaborative projects.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    One way to fill the grey area is bring samples to the interview to show what you have been working on lately without leaving them behind. Be very careful that the projects are not proprietary in nature. Finished projects are safest. Remember that you are showing your skills rather than the creativity of the firm that you currently work for. You should not need to show more of the firm’s work than is necessary to show your abilities and experience.


    Bottom line: Don’t sell out your current firm by showing a competitor something that they should not see or take credit for design that is not your own and you should be fine.


    You should be comfortable showing any material that has been in a public meeting. If you can get by with that, you can hold your head high.


    That is just my opinion and within my personal ethics.



    Chris Whitted

    Your current employer sounds sketchy to me.  My response to why it’s important would be that as a professional in this field it’s important to maintain a record of my work, period.  It doesn’t matter if I’m looking right now or not, maintaining a portfolio simply comes with the territory.  A lot/most people tend to do it only in job search mode, but there are quite a few who make it part of regular routine.  And if he can’t get you an answer to flipping through a sample portfolio at some point over the course of a year…  Yeah, sketchy.

    For your current situation, is any of your work a matter of public record?  If it’s on file with a municipality, either as record drawings or public presentation material, it’s fair game with or without his permission.  Has any of it been used for marketing purposes, either for your employer or a client?  Also fair game since it’s publically available, though perhaps in a more commercialized format than just your original you’d probably like to show (arguments could be made for using the original however).

    You said you’ve already included stuff from outside the company in the past year, so you won’t be showing up with nothing.  I would make it a point to mention in the interview that there were some recent things you would have liked to include but you were denied permission to do so.  And don’t use the passive ‘not given permission’, be sure to use the active ‘denied permission’.

    Cory Blaquiere

    Thanks for the advice, especially regarding my wording. Everyone’s been extremely helpful.

    I think the safest thing would be to strip the examples of as much detail as possible (who’s going to want to read my notes of concrete slump testing during an interview anyway?) in the interest of protecting my current employers IP. 

    A lot of our work is municipal and has been posted online for Tender so I have lots to choose from there.

    I also think that despite the outcome being fairly predictable, I’m going to exercise due diligence and follow up with him one more time.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    By the way, you are showing a lot of integrity by asking this question and having reservations about using material that you worked on without getting approval. Hopefully, your prospective employer will see this because it is a virtue that is very hard to detect and far more rare than it should be. You can’t teach integrity.





    I’m “assuming” you never signed a “contract” with your current employer that stated you would NOT use any of that firm’s design work IF you ever left.  My guess is, you didn’t because that’s really not normal practice…..at least not with any LA firms I know of.

    I worked for a Dallas LA firm for 13 years (1978 – 1991)…and within that time, I also logged in over 4,000 hours of over-time (or almost 2 additional yrs.).  Personally designed approx. 300+ projects (wide variety).  I helped make the (2) Partners multi-millionaires.  In 1991, the firm had ZERO work…and did a massive layoff.  I was 41.  I had no choice but to est. my own LA firm…as the job market at that time was almost as bad as it is today.  Well, in order to do establish my own LA firm…..I HAD to show developers, architects, engineers, landscape contractors, etc., samples of my previous design work……..i.e., prelim. color renderings, final contract documents, sketches, construction details, photos of built work I designed, etc.  Had I NOT been able to do that…..I have NO IDEA HOW I would have been able to establish my own LA firm.  And the salary I was paid with that Dallas firm was ridiculous….I did at least 7x better financially on my own…after I got my firm up and running.

    I will say this…..NEVER once did I go after ANY of my former LA firm’s clientele.  I could have….and probably offered to design their work for 50% less….but, I didn’t.  I spent the next 3 years establishing my own firm.  All of my clients, once I established my own LA firm were my Own.

    In my opinion, I feel your past employer is being UNFAIR to you…and unreasonable. 

    I began building my “Professional LA Portfolio” very early on in my LA career, because I knew it was important…..that Portfolio is “KEY” to your future as Landscape Architect. 

    Good Luck!

    J. Robert (Bob) Wainner

    Andrew Garulay, RLA


    You are a good person to ask this question of. How would you react to a current employee showing work from your office while trying to get a job with another firm?



    First off (and this is not an excuse, but, I have never had an employee)….I’ve been freelance since 1991.

    However, IF I had had a larger firm, with several LA employees…..and some left to pursue another job at another LA firm……if they were to use work samples from my LA firm, I would want them to at LEAST give my LA firm credit.  That they did NOT do the design work themselves. 

    I feel sure that when other LA firms interview Landscape Architects (who have experience), they know, when they are coming from another LA firm…the work is really NOT entirely their own work.  But, these firms want to SEE your Portfolio….I think this is just a normal part of the process.

    IF I had employees who left….and went after my clientele OR tried to take 100% credit for design projects they did while at my firm (not giving my firm credit), yes, I’d have a problem with that.

    I know that at the Dallas LA firm I was with…..we set up a branch office in Tampa, Florida.  We sent (2) of our LA’s out there to set up the office and hire additional LA’s.  Both of those LA’s sent to Tampa were “required” to sign a “no compete” contract……which, I believe, stated those 2 LA’s could not (if they left the firm) design ANY LA projects within a 200 mile radius of Tampa for (2) yrs.  Not sure just how legal that is.  That branch was closed down about 7 yrs. later due to lack of work….and the (2) LA’s ended establishing their own very successful LA firms.


    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    I assumed that you had staff. Good info none the less.


    Hopefully, someone who does or did have staff in their own firm will chime in.


    Andrew…………Actually, no, I had ZERO staff.  Though married, I handled my LA practice entirely on my own.  Well, it helped that, back when I was 20 to 24 yrs. old, I served in the U.S. Navy on an Air Wing Command Staff…handling all administration matters for the Air Wing Commander & 15 other Officers (who were all Navy Pilots).  So, the Navy taught me how to type and how to handle admin. issues.

    I also produced all of my own base sheets, sketching, prelimin. color renderings, final contract documents, construction details, plant take-offs, cost estimates, correspondence, billing, specifications, inspection trips out of town & out of state, inspection reports, client meetings, marketing…..ALL drawings were drawn “by hand”.  Well…that’s WHY I put in all of the “over-time” hours I’ve put in during my LA career – over 4 yrs. worth….and why I decided to go into semi-retirement at age 58…*smile*.

    I could have expanded…..and added “staff”….I just made the decision not to.  I always had a “design studio” in my home…kept my over-head low and my profit margins high.  Other than Federal Income Taxes…I really didn’t have any over-head to speak of.

    But, as you mentioned, it would be interesting to hear from other LA’s who have either Owned their own LA firm (with employees) or maybe were Principals or Partners in larger LA firms…..get their take on this issue.


    Most state licensure laws that I’ve read…ok, only three…have language about using work you did while with your employer for a portfolio.  That is, it is a condition of maintaining licensure.  You have to allow employees to use work in that way.


    On guy I worked for, apparently he felt bad about having to lay me off, and so he printed out a bunch of projects that I had only marginal involvement with for me to use in my portfolio.

    Goustan BODIN

    If that constraint is not expressly mentioned in your contract, you are free to do just as you wish. Be honest : say what you did, or contributed to do. People who hire are interested into knowing what you can do.

    A reverse extreme example : I have designed a garden for a Chancery once, a couple of years after sept11, and had to sign a very restrictive contract commanding me to even destruct working files afterwards (CAD and others) ! I don’t even have a picture of that work to show !


    I am responding to this post because I worked for a principal for a few years who used similar tactics. The “why is this important, are you looking?” question is an intimidation technique designed to squelch your initiative to look elsewhere. Don’t fall for it.

    Since you are not (hopefully) an indentured servant, and are (probably) not a slave, of course you are looking! Here’s the test: would you turn down a better employment situation if offered, even if you were not officially looking for one?

    I am not familiar with Canadian licensure statutes; however, I can’t imagine the rules regarding licensure would be too different in Canada than the US. In the states in which I am licensed, an employer can’t prohibit you from showing your work unless s/he has signed a confidentiality agreement with that particular client, or you signed a similar agreement with your employer. Even then, you may be able to redact project and client information from the work and be in compliance with the NDA. If the work has been shown at a public meeting or to public officials, I wouldn’t worry. Be sure to give credit where due.

    Get out of there fast and into a better situation. And remember, don’t badmouth or complain in the least about your current employer in the interview. Best of luck.

    Cory Blaquiere

    That’s amazing to hear that worked out for you. I’ve taken a few business courses myself and this might be an avenue for me in the future.

    I will have to review my contract to make sure there’s nothing in the fine print, but from what I remember from the restrictive covenants, there is only a mention of not sharing any proprietary information.

    Cory Blaquiere

    I have a project with a clear NDA attached to it but it’s from a few years ago and isn’t something I would choose to show anyway.

    Hopefully they won’t come back and ask for revisions.

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