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Is an employee ‘moonlighting’ really bad for your business?

April 6, 2016

An interesting case caught my eye this week; a Year 6 female Teaching Assistant from County Durham was dismissed from her role for having a second job as an underwear model. The article reported that the lady was told parents would lose respect for the school if they knew they employed someone who did modelling work. The headmistress actually told her at her disciplinary meeting that she didn’t want pupils to think that it was acceptable to be a model!

This was all despite the lady’s assertions that the school were fully aware of her second job when she applied for the role at the school. Seem harsh?

So, how should you deal with situations where you find existing employees are doing other work whilst employed by you? And when might second occupations be so unacceptable that you have to consider formal action, possibly even dismissal?

Firstly, an important step towards you even being able to address such situations is to ensure that you have a clause in your employment contracts. This would state clearly that employees should declare where they already have other jobs, or when they decide to take on other paid employment whilst working for you.

What might the issues of moonlighting be?

The key issues to consider then are:

1 – Does the second job have an impact on the employee being able to carry out their role with you?
Are they turning up to work late due to rushing between jobs or oversleeping having worked late into the evening? Does their work with you require flexibility, meaning that their second job is preventing them from being able to work alternative hours or days that you might require them to be available? Are they making mistakes or not being as productive as they should be as a result of being so tired from working 2 jobs?
2 – Does the second job constitute a ‘conflict of interest’?
Are they working for a direct competitor in their second role, meaning that they could be depriving you of work, custom and income? Even if their other job is with a customer or supplier, could their employment there have an impact on your business due to favouritism, bribery issues or present a potential conflict by them having confidential information that could be passed on?
3 – Does the second job present a potential reputational risk to you as a business? 
This is often difficult to prove. In the case above the school’s headmistress felt that the teaching assistant’s other career as a model would impact the reputation of her school due to how this was perceived by parents – but is this really likely to be the case? If there had been no complaints from parents, adverse publicity, or concerns raised by staff or students it’s unlikely that there was a real problem – particularly if she was doing a good job as a TA. Unless there has been actual reputational damage, the risk of it may be perceived rather than a real possibility and dismissing someone with a second job due to potential reputational damage should be approached with caution.

So how should I handle moonlighting in practice?

When you discover that an employee has secondary employment, rather than jumping to any conclusions or making a snap decision, have a chat to find out more about it and the reasons why – they will often be financial. Reassure them that so long as there is no impact on their position with you, they are fine to continue; but should any performance, conduct or reputational issues occur you will have to review the situation. Similarly, when considering applicants for a role where they have declared another job, any potential issues can be taken into account when making a decision on their suitability.

It’s much more common now than ever before for people to have more than one job – many who would like to work full-time can only find part-time opportunities and therefore need to take up two in order to make ends meet. Even those working full-time sometimes need an extra income to cover their outgoings, so it doesn’t need to spell the end of someone’s employment just because they’re ‘cheating’ on you with another Company!