The Legality of Moonlighting
In order to combat the pandemic and comply with government orders, almost all workplaces were forced to ask their employees to work remotely or adopt a hybrid mode of working. For many sectors which were doing well before the pandemic, it also led to fewer jobs and high costs. This shift in turn gave rise to concepts like moonlighting, sunlighting and quiet quitting among working professionals. Moonlighting comes from the term moonlighter, which is used to describe a person who takes up second work during the night time. So in simple terms, it is the practice where a person takes up work, typically after their regular work hours. Whereas, sunlighting means that the employee cuts hours on the regular job to work a second job. Quiet quitting means the simple act of doing the bare minimum at work.
While all such practices have serious implications for both the employer and employee, in this article we will restrict ourselves to moonlighting and its legality.
There are several reasons why moonlighting has been on the rise including –
The need for additional income due to inflation – It has been seen that primary jobs do not provide sufficient income to meet the financial obligations of the people. For them, it becomes necessary to supplement their income with an additional source. Some are forced to work, round the clock. This practice can lead to decreased efficiency over time and even burnout.
Massive layoffs- With rarely any job security in the private sector and massive layoffs due to the pandemic, more and more employees want to have something to work on along with their regular jobs. These situations make the employees vulnerable and they prefer to have backup plans ready in case things go south.
Wanting to change fields – The employees who are unhappy with their chosen field of work or want to make a transition to a different sector but lack work experience, take up part-time jobs to develop their skills and also figure out if they are fit for that industry.
Monotonous work – If the work is not challenging enough, a lot of employees look forward to upscaling their skills by taking up different kinds of work.
Easy availability of part-time work – there is no dearth of short-term projects or work. Small businesses prefer to hire freelancers and provide them with flexibility which makes such work attractive as well.
While moonlighting is prevalent in most sectors, it is the most visible in the IT sector. This is because the IT sector can operate remotely, which enables the employees to take up simultaneous assignments.
The laws of most countries do not define moonlighting. But there are several provisions that talk about dual employment even though there is no concrete or specific law that regulates this practice.
The contract law in common law countries makes the agreements in restraint of trade void (except goodwill). But the position with respect to the restrictive covenants in employment contracts like non-compete, non-solicitation and confidentiality with regards to intellectual property is recognised by the courts. There is no blanket law and the position is not completely settled yet whether it amounts to a breach of trust varies on a case-to-case basis. In such a scenario, the employer could have an option of putting such restrictive clauses along with a moonlighting clause in the agreement to protect their interests better.
In the USA, the laws prevent federal employees from handling dual jobs and the policies differ from company to company.
In countries like Japan, which are known for their stricter work culture, the threat of getting fired due to moonlighting is high.
In the Indian context, some labour laws talk about dual employment –
Under the Factories Act 1948, a person is not allowed to work at two places at once.
The Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Rules, 1946 lay out when the employee may take up additional employment and also that the employee will not take up additional employment which will be harmful to the interest of the employer.
In addition to these, there are several regulations in different sectors that restrict moonlighting. For example, the bar council rules in most nations state that a practising advocate can’t take up other jobs. Similar regulations apply to doctors throughout the world.
But these laws have limited application and do not cover all the diverse sectors that are there. Given the confusion regarding the stance on dual employment, it is yet to be seen whether different countries come up with nation-centric laws to regulate this practice.
In the absence of such laws, let’s look at the possible ways to tackle moonlighting
Increased wages- Increased wages mean a higher standard of living for the employee and they will be able to meet their financial obligations comfortably. This would eliminate the people who engage in moonlighting because of their financial conditions.
Review of employment contracts – Employers can review their contracts to include clear policies and also to ensure that they are not extremely strict and overbearing for the employees. They could allow for permitted additional work.
Better working conditions and collaboration – Employers can provide flexible conditions to create a work environment that promotes work-life balance and helps in increasing their loyalty to the company. The employers can also collaborate with the employees and find out ways to support them without them having to take on an additional job.
In conclusion, it becomes evident that moonlighting is a delicate situation for companies to deal with. But there is no harm in permitting moonlighting, given that there is a well-defined legal policy in the picture, which can be enforced in a court of law. It is necessary for the welfare of the employees and the employers that they work together so that it turns out to be a mutually beneficial arrangement. At present, having no definite law leads it prone to varied interpretations. The court or the legislature needs to address this issue or it could lead to chaos and mismanagement at workplaces.
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