‘Moonlighting’ is a double-edged sword! Beware of legal repercussions

‘Moonlighting’ is a double-edged sword! Beware of legal repercussions

Employees can gain some extra income and valuable experience, but they run the risk of breaching their employment contract

‘Moonlighting’ is a double-edged sword! Beware of legal repercussions  ‘Moonlighting’ is a double-edged sword! Beware of legal repercussions

‘Moonlighting’ can be a double-edged sword for employees in India, experts say. The practice of working on side jobs and part-time assignments while being employed full-time with an organisation may bring in some extra income and valuable experience, but when caught it may be seen as violation of contract and even lead to termination.   

“There is a lot of chatter about people moonlighting in the tech industry. This is cheating - plain and simple,” tweeted Wipro Executive Chairman Rishad Premji a few days ago. 

Careernet’s CEO and Co-founder Anshuman Das says the recent pandemic, an unstable job climate, the fears of a recession and attrition woes have sparked an industry-wide panic in the IT sector.  “Given these circumstances, indications of moonlighting are definitely evident and it is emerging as a resort by remote employees seeking to secure income channels through any means.” 

This comes against the backdrop of startups firing more than 11,000 people since January 2022 and some IT companies looking at holding back variable pay to ease pressures on their narrow operating margins.  

This trend started off in the IT industry during the pandemic as a few employees working remotely were juggling two or three jobs simultaneously, according to CIEL HR Services Managing Director and CEO Aditya Narayan Mishra. “Although moonlighting is an attractive option for employees as it would benefit their career and growth and help them earn some extra income, it is a matter of concern for employers as it would put the company's confidential information at risk and employees might not give their 100%.”  

Careernet's Das says the practice is prevalent at both the top and bottom of the pyramid. "Employees at the top of the pyramid tend to supplement their income through consulting, while the gig economy opens up multiple employments at the bottom. The additional income from moonlighting averages to 10% of the employee’s primary income."

Just a few weeks ago, food ordering platform Swiggy announced a moonlighting policy to allow employees to take up external projects pro-bono or even for an economic consideration based on internal approvals. “This could encompass activity outside of office hours or on weekends that does not impact their productivity on the full-time job or have a conflict of interest with Swiggy’s business in any way,” the company had said.

CIEL’s Mishra says that implementing this in the IT industry would need carefully drafted rules and regulations which will take into consideration all the minute details of what kind of side jobs employees can take as well as the conduct guidelines. 

In cases where the company has not made it clear that such projects are allowed, experts point out that the firm can take legal action against the employees based on the contract they operate under. 

"When it comes to moonlighting amounting to employee cheating, it may be deemed so if their contract specifies non-compete, single employment, which is the case with most of the traditional employment contracts," says Das.

"However, if the employment contracts do not contain such a clause or have relaxations specified, it doesn’t amount to cheating.”


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