July 10, 2009
Moonlighting: Do you have to tell your employer?
With so many people getting their hours cut or worried about layoffs this year, it's no surprise that more workers are moonlighting at a second (or third) job.
In January, a Daily Beast poll of 500 adult workers in the United States found that 23 percent of them had more than one paying job. What's more, 72 percent of these moonlighters said they worked their second job on top of a full-time one.
Of the moonlighters polled, a third said they worked a second job because they needed the extra income. Another third said their second job was a hobby that had become profitable. A few had taken to moonlighting after their hours had been cut at their day job. Another handful said they'd taken a second job for the benefits that their primary job didn't afford them.
In the past month, I've talked with full-time workers with all manner of moonlighting gigs, from a banking professional who does stand-up comedy at night to a rabbi who runs a public relations consultancy on the side to an administrator at a construction company who doubles as a children's party clown on weekends.
One NWjobs reader (let's call her "Kate") who's an office worker by day said she's been reluctant to tell her employer that she's been apprenticing for a taxidermist evenings and weekends for the past few months.
"We do have a policy that allows for moonlighting," Kate said about her day job. "So long as the outside work does not in any way detract from your ability to do your day job and doesn't cross swords with their standard non-compete policy."
Still, Kate doesn't want her employer and coworkers to mistake her enthusiasm for taxidermy for a lack of commitment. So she keeps her second vocation hush-hush.
I can't say I blame her. In this economic climate, you don't want to give employers any reason to think you're not 100 percent devoted to your full-time job. Nor --as some moonlighters told to me -- do you want to give them any reason to think you don't need every last dollar of your paycheck.
Curious about the legal ramifications of moonlighting on top of a day job, I checked with a couple of employment attorneys. As you might expect, the consensus was that as long as you abide by the following common-sense rules, you have every right to freelance or work a second gig on top of your day job.
Put your full-time job first. Showing up to work late, exhausted, or disheveled because you were up late with your side gig won't earn you any Employee of the Month awards. Neither will using company time and equipment to make calls and send e-mails related to your second job.
Check the company policy. Some employers have a no-moonlighting policy -- period. Others require you to check with your manager before taking freelance or part-time work in the same field, especially if you're a writer, designer, marketer, programmer, or other creative worker.
Never two-time your employer. Working for the competition, stealing your employer's customers, or giving away trade secrets are (obviously) big no-no's, regardless of whether your employer makes you sign a contract saying as much. If you get caught, expect to be shown the door.
Readers, I'd love to hear about your recent experiences with moonlighting. Have you told your employer that you're freelancing or working a second job? Why or why not?
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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