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Are you being two-timed by your staff?

9 Dec 2021 By Francis Churchill

Working from home en masse amid Covid lockdowns has led to a jump in so-called ‘overemployment’ – and experts advise businesses to protect themselves against it

Portfolio careers and side hustles have always been a thing – a way for savvy individuals to boost their earnings. But the combination of remote working and skyrocketing vacancies has led to some employees going a step further. A growing number of ‘overemployed’ people are taking on second full-time jobs and running them parallel to their day job, earning two full-time salaries in the process.

“I decided to stay on at my old job while starting my new job, overlapping two jobs as a hedge against uncertainty during the pandemic,” writes one such overemployed worker, Isaac, who founded the blog-cum-support group overemployed.com. “I told myself I’d only do it until the end of the month, but as time went on I began to wonder – why not stick around?”

The legality of this is a grey area, and people practising overemployment know it. On overemployed.com, serial employees can access useful advice on how to minimise their chances of getting caught. Accidental discovery through mutual acquaintances appears to be the main danger, but the site suggests a whole range of techniques from passively hiding your online presence to actively misdirecting colleagues.

Businesses have every reason to be concerned if a worker is overemployed, says Mark Owen, a solicitor at Irwell Law. Beyond the obvious – that an individual working two full-time jobs is unlikely to be giving their all to either – overemployment creates the potential for conflicts of interest and introduces the risk that company knowledge or confidential information gets shared: a particular danger if the jobs in question are in the same sector.

There are also implications for staff retention; an overemployed employee might encourage other staff to take up a second job, or might jump ship entirely and take colleagues with them. “Working for someone else gives them a taste of ‘greener grass on the other side’,” says Owen. “It is hard enough keeping staff these days when they are working for just one employer,” he says.

There are steps employers can take if they suspect an employee is holding down multiple jobs – the tell-tale signs of which include missing deadlines and periodic but persistent unavailability – but these depend on what contracts a firm has in place. If a contract states the number of hours an employee is required to work, then someone who is overemployed may well be in breach of this, says Owen.

Contracts also often include clauses requiring that staff “devote their working time, attention and skill” in order to carry out their duties. But, Owen says, an employee could well argue they are not breaching this by working for a second employer; it’s much better to have specific clauses stating that an employee should not undertake work for another employer. Owen also suggests businesses introduce workforce policies prohibiting overemployment from a set date. This would give all employees “notice that overemployment is against the company’s ethos and culture,” he says, providing guilty employees “an amnesty to get their house in order”.

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