Moonlighting – Right or Wrong?

Moonlighting – Right or Wrong?
K Sudarshan, Regional Chair, Asia & Managing Director, India, EMA PartnersEMA Partners
Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) and Chief Human Resources Officers (CHROs), especially in technology led businesses are grappling with challenges in getting people back to the workplace. In many cases, employees have moved from their original work locations. As per some unofficial estimates, despite a return to office mandate, less than 15% of the employees turnup at work especially at the junior level. Consequently, their managers at the mid-level have also very little incentive to turnup at work with their teams working remote. Companies are finding it difficult to drive down a sense of larger purpose with their people and are now saddled with a disengaged workforce across levels.

Moonlighting is a side-effect of the ongoing situation. There has been a raging debate whether employees should be free to pursue other jobs whilst in full-time employment in one organization. Recently, we have seen reports of an IT major sacking 300 employees for moonlighting for competition which is a serious breach of contract.

We often use the word ‘FTEs” which means full-time employees which translates roughly as employees who are committed to their employers full-time and vice-versa. FTEs also sign exclusive employment contracts with their employers which preclude them from pursuing other full-time / part-time paid opportunities and they are supposed to devote 100% of their productive time to the advancement of the business objectives of their employers. Even in the case of a part-time engagement, there is usually a non-compete clause which precludes any work with competition, either full time or part time.

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Going by the contract, any employee who is moonlighting, especially with competition is in clear violation of the contract both in law and spirit. From their perspective, it is fair that companies are taking a call to sack these employees to protect their interests. However, on the other side, employees, especially the younger generation, mostly onboarded during the pandemic don’t seem to hold the same view and they value their freedom and flexibility to pursue multiple opportunities to add to their bank balance. There is a clear misalignment in terms of lack of ownership and long-term thinking which companies truly value.

For the sake of clarity, going forward, perhaps, the best way to tackle this situation is to create two distinct employer-employee contracts, with one for full-time employment and the other with in-built flexibility which allows contracted employees to pursue other opportunities provided they are not in conflict with the business of the employer. These will typically be short-term engagements with no long-term benefits or career advancement opportunities which are otherwise offered to full time employees. Many companies already engage with several such part-time employees or gig workers on short term contracts.


At the end of the day, it isn’t a question whether employees are allowed to pick up another side hustle, it is more about provisioning such an option in their contracts which will allow them to pursue such opportunities. But they must be prepared for a trade-off based on principles of reciprocity if they don’t have their skin in the game or committed full-time to their employers.

On the flip side, who likes to lose a good employee, either full-time or part-time? It is just a question of fulfilling contractual obligations, full disclosure, and transparency.