What can HR do about employees secretly working two jobs?

As the government reportedly investigates the practice among public sector workers, People Management considers how businesses can monitor and prevent it

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HR leaders have been urged to have “open, honest conversations” with employees they suspect of secretly working two jobs – and not just assume they are being “deceitful”.

It comes as The Telegraph reported that a government fraud squad is investigating local council employees who have been found to secretly be doing another job. The practice, called ‘multiple contract working’, is being looked into by the National Fraud Initiative, overseen by the Cabinet Office, said the newspaper.

HR experts suspect there are examples of the practice in the private sector, but say it is important to understand why the employees are doing it.

Gary Cookson, director of Epic HR and author of HR for Hybrid Working, tells People Management that the practice can have a negative impact on businesses through “lost productivity, damage to employee relations and in losing a potentially valuable employee”.

But, he warns: “If it is happening, it may be because employees face rising cost of living and may need a secondary income.” 

Cookson suggests employers have “open, honest conversations about why employees would consider this and what [they] could do to help them – either through pay and rewards or promoting healthier working practices, better team culture and sense of belonging”. 

Paul Holcroft, managing director of Croner, says employers should also consider the implications on the Working Time Regulations, as all time spent working – even if split between different jobs – counts towards the 48-hour working week. “Employers do not have to go as far as liaising with the other employer to check what the employee is working for them,” he says. “Instead, within the employment contract there would need to be a clause that puts the obligation on the employee, in such a situation, to keep their employer informed.”

Holcroft adds that workers may not have a malicious intent, “so employers shouldn’t assume employees are necessarily being deceitful”.

“They may not realise that they need to tell their employer, so employers need to make sure that any requirement for employees to notify is clear,” he says.

One of the councils at the centre of The Telegraph’s coverage, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, said in a report published in June this year that “several instances have been identified where a council employee has been fraudulently working simultaneously (full time) for other organisations”.

It said that this “new and emerging fraud type” has come from the pandemic, which “normalised working from home and hybrid working” and with it “create[d] new types of risks”. 

The council said: “It is not unusual for an employee who works office hours to have a part-time evening or weekend job, so long as it doesn’t affect their contractual working hours. 

“However, it becomes a theft of time and fraud when an employee knowingly collects two full-time salaries but splits their hours so they only work 50 per cent of the time for each one.”

Cookson says suspicions can emerge as a result of flexible working practices, adding that he was falsely accused of secretly doing multiple jobs when working in a hybrid way for an organisation that “didn’t like or really support flexible working or remote working”.

Gemma Dale, lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University, says: “It’s impossible to say how widespread this practice is, because its very nature means that employees engaged in it will be actively hiding from their employers.” 

She explains that whether it is a breach of contract or not depends to some extent on the written agreement between the employee and their organisation. “Some contracts will expressly prohibit having a second job or require the individual to have written permission to do so,” Dale says. “Others might allow employees to have a second job but place limitations on it to reduce the potential for conflict of interest.”

Despite this, she says that, even if a second job was not prohibited in the contract, it could still amount to “a disciplinary or even a gross misconduct matter” if the employee neglects their responsibilities, there is a conflict of interest or other policies such as IT are being breached.

“There is an implied duty of good faith and fidelity during employment,” says Holcroft. “It is expected that an employee will devote their whole time and attention to you and your business during working hours.

“You don’t want them working for the other business when they should be working for you, so you may want to include a clause in the contract of employment stating this to ensure they are devoting their time appropriately.”

In terms of detecting whether an employee is secretly working multiple jobs, Dale says it can be difficult if the employee is managing to perform well in the different roles. However, she says that, over time, “it is likely that there would be either an impact on performance or attendance”, adding that employers should have “regular, well-documented and effective performance management”.