Legally, employers can claim ownership of anything you create, design, or develop on-the-job. They pay for your time and become the corporate owners of any on-the-clock product. It’s an age-old agreement, codified now in employee contract law. But what about the work-product of those gray-area activities? Interviews, onboarding, and training muddy the waters of time paid and work produced.

Is it legal for your employer to sell a product you made during training? Is it legal for them to use a work product (ex: marketing designs) that was attained to prove skill during an interview? There are many variations of not-quite-work time that might produce something valuable to the company. If your time was not paid, then the product cannot legally be used to benefit the company. 

Let’s define each of the common work-product gray areas and whether it’s legal for the company to benefit without compensation.


Illegal: Unpaid Interview Assessment Product

The vast majority of interviews are unpaid. Candidates arrive on their own time, and employers often ask them to display their skills. This may be an independent project, a group collaboration, or just a brainstorming session with the interviewer to test your skills. Employers cannot legally use or sell the work product of unpaid interviews. 


Gray Area: Paid Interviews

As a rule-of-thumb, if you were paid for the interview (minimum wage or higher) then the employers can claim the product. However, there are so many ways that employers have mismanaged the paid interview structure that this has become a legal gray-area. For paid time before official hiring, the right protocols must be used. 

You must be compensated at minimum wage or higher. Time worked at the job must be covered by payroll taxes, worker’s comp coverage (confirmed with carrier), signed copy of the handbook, and the employee must be legally eligible to work. Because on the job, you are legally an employee even if there is not yet an employee contract.


Illegal: Unpaid Training Work Product

The same rules apply for any training time that is not paid at or above minimum wage. Training often produces work-product because it involves hands-on work and practice. Work-product might be time doing the job or the result of a project made during training. If you were required to clock-out during training time or train outside of work hours and were not compensated for your time (minimum wage or above), then the work-product is yours alone. 

An employer who has not paid for your time cannot claim the products you make during unpaid hours.


Legal: Paid Training Work Product

That said, it is legal for an employer to claim the product of paid training. If your employer pays you minimum wage or above for the time spent training, they can claim the product of that training. This, of course, can be stretched into legal gray areas about value and exploitation, but most of the time paid training legally gives the employer product-ownership. This, of course, assumes the employee is already covered by payroll, worker’s comp, etc.


Illegal: Unpaid Working Interviews or Onboarding Product

Working interviews have become a legally charged term, because not all employers do it correctly. If all the basics of employment (mentioned in ‘Paid Interviews’ section) are met, then time spent working without a long-term employment contract is legal. Employers are free to benefit from any value produced.

However, if the employee’s time is not properly covered by employment requirements, then using the product of said interview is also illegal.


Illegal: Misclassified Working Interviews and Probation Periods

The most common mistake involving working interviews is misclassification. Employers often assume they can mark a trial period as ‘contractor’ work. However, if there is no contract, a probationary employee cannot be a contractor. Any other “I can just” solution is likely to overlook the essential requirements of working time, and therefore the rights to work product value.


Legal: Product from Paid Temp-Agency or Contracted Staff

Lastly, there is an interesting exception for temp-agency workers. Because temp-agency workers are already working for the agency, they are covered by the basics of payroll, taxes, and insurance. Employers can ask them to go through working interviews because their time is being compensated already. Temporary contracts can also be used to make an early short-term arrangement for pre-hiring work. If a contract is signed that defines who owns the work product, it defines the working and ownership scenario.

Has your work product from unpaid interviews or training been used by the company? If so, this is a form of theft and has been used to implement massive fraud. You can reclaim your intellectual property and/or hold your employers accountable with the help of legal services. Here at Aiman-Smith and Marcy, we are dedicated to holding employers to legal standards. Contact us today to learn how we can help you defend your employee rights, both on and off the clock.

Lisseth Bayona


Education and Background

I am a Los Angeles native and daughter of Salvadorian immigrants. From an early age, my parents instilled the value of hard work and education in me and my two siblings. Their perseverance enabled each of us to graduate from college and earn professional degrees.

My interest and commitment to workers’ rights have roots in my parents’ experiences as undocumented workers in Los Angeles. Witnessing the challenges they faced inspired me to pursue a career where I can help individuals confronted with similar struggles. To help someone in those moments is very satisfying. I love connecting with people and learning about their stories. I believe that dignity in the workplace is a right of all workers, not a convenience or privilege reserved for employees of a certain race, gender, age, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Legal Experience

I received my J.D. from the University of Southern California (USC) Gould School of Law. While there, I served as a judicial extern to the Honorable Patrick J. Walsh of the United States District Court for the Central District of California, where I drafted a criminal judicial opinion. Also, while at Gould, I served as an extern for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California. As a Criminal Division Extern, I had the opportunity to work closely with a trial team of Assistant U.S. Attorneys on a money laundering case which further sparked my interest in litigation.

Personal Interests

In my free time, I enjoy urban vegetable gardening, traveling, and spending time with my nephew and niece. I also love to spend time at San Onofre Beach learning to surf, although admittedly, I am not very good.



Hallie L. Von Rock

Attorney (SBN 233152)

Education and Background

I moved to the Bay Area from Washington after graduating high school. I had been accepted to UC Berkeley through a program where I could defer for two years while getting my California residency and attending community college, which was significant since I was paying for college on my own. I began working for Randall Aiman-Smith and Reed Marcy in 1996 as an office manager while taking night classes. My first foray into the legal world was soon after starting at the firm when I was ready to transfer to UC Berkeley. Rather than accepting my resident status, the Board of Regents took the position that California residency required a student to be in California “two calendar years.” Randall and Reed took up my case with the same verve as they helped their actual clients and I got the chance to comb through the UC Berkeley library to read their codes and regulations to support my position. In that experience, I learned what is was like to feel helpless against a big organization and then to have dedicated attorneys in my corner to take up my cause.

After a break to pursue my major in art history, I went to UC Hastings College of Law and continued working with Randall and Reed. Having worked together now for over 25 years, we have a unique ability to work collaboratively and finish each other’s sentences. I have strived throughout my career to make a difference in the lives of our clients. At the end of the day, if I am helping someone to get compensation for losses they suffered, then I know that all the work put into a case has been worth it.

Legal Experience

I have extensive experience in civil litigation and class action cases, including conducting discovery and depositions, calculating damages analysis, preparing motions for certification, writing appellate documents, and overseeing claims administration. We have handled several class actions against retailers where plaintiffs claimed they were forced to purchase clothing to wear to work and were not compensated for these purchases, including against Abercrombie & Fitch, Hugo Boss, Armani Exchange, Uniqlo, Dollar Tree, and Ross. Recently, I was trial counsel in a defamation claim against Bank of America on behalf of a former employee who claimed the Bank blacklisted her with future employers. The jury found Bank of America liable, including for punitive damages.

Personal Interests

Aiman-Smith & Marcy has sponsored me in the Boston Marathon and New York Marathon. When I race, I often wear a “Rockstar Ronan” shirt to support research for childhood cancer through The Ronan Thompson Foundation.


University of California, Berkeley, B.A., 1999

Hastings College of the Law, University of California, J.D., 2004

Randall Aiman-Smith

Abogado (SBN 124599)

Aiman-Smith & Marcy. Oakland consumer fraud attorneys.

Educación y antecedentes

Fui afortunado. A pesar de no haber terminado la escuela secundaria o la universidad, pude -aunque con mucho trabajo- ser admitido y sobresalir en una de las mejores escuelas de derecho del país: La Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad de Berkeley. Mientras estuve allí, tuve el privilegio de ser editor de la California Law Review y miembro del Moot Court Board, asesorando en la redacción de escritos y en la defensa de apelaciones a otros estudiantes. Después de salir de la escuela de derecho, en mis primeros años de práctica, enseñé la escritura legal y la defensa de apelación en la Universidad de California, Hastings College of the Law. También, a lo largo de los años, he sido presentador en eventos de educación legal continua.

Experiencia legal

He sido abogado durante 35 años. He dedicado mi práctica exclusivamente a representar a empleados, consumidores e inversores en los tribunales estatales y federales de primera instancia y en los tribunales de apelación. Me gusta ir a los tribunales por mis clientes y he llevado muchos casos con jurado en los tribunales estatales y federales.

¿Ejemplos? En 2010, fui la abogada principal, junto con los otros abogados del bufete, en el caso Williams v. Union Pacific Railroad donde, después de cuatro años de preparación, el bufete obtuvo un veredicto del jurado de 1.670.000 dólares para una empleada afroamericana. En Rivero v. Surdyka, fui el abogado principal en el juicio y la apelación de un caso de derechos civiles que duró 15 años, incluyendo un juicio completo y tres apelaciones al Noveno Circuito, concluyendo finalmente con una sentencia para los demandantes de más de 2.300.000 dólares. Estos casos ilustran el lema del bufete: compromiso – resultados. Hay que comprometerse con un caso, a veces durante mucho tiempo, para obtener el resultado que el cliente merece.

No siempre ganamos en el juicio. Cuando eso ocurre, el compromiso significa llevar el caso al siguiente nivel y recurrirlo. En el caso Rivero, antes mencionado, eso fue lo que ocurrió: el tribunal desestimó el caso -habíamos perdido- pero apelamos y conseguimos una victoria para nuestros clientes que mantuvimos a través de dos apelaciones más. Desde entonces, el bufete ha conseguido muchas victorias en apelación que reivindican los derechos de los empleados y los consumidores.

A lo largo de los años he sido abogado de los demandantes en numerosos casos individuales y acciones colectivas. Puede sonar cursi, o difícil de creer, pero después de todo este tiempo, y después de todas las grandes experiencias que he tenido, mi parte favorita de ser abogado es cuando consigo dar un cheque a mi cliente.



Facultad de Derecho, Universidad de California, Berkeley, J.D., 1986