Juggling jobs

With people turning to a second job to help with the cost of living, will companies have to deal with more staff moonlighting or double-jobbing?

If you could do your full-time job with time to spare, what would you do? Perhaps you’d start a new side hustle or, if you were conscientious, ask your boss for more work. But nowadays remote working has made it easier than ever for staff to moonlight: take second jobs.

Second jobs can be extremely well-paid. Just look at the MPs who gained £10m collectively from their side gigs and freelance work last year, largely due to Boris Johnson’s £5m earnings from his extra work. It’s not just MPs earning extra income from ‘double jobbing’ as council workers have been caught in the act. And these aren’t just taking on roles that might require a couple of days’ work a month like MPs. Rather, they are juggling two full-time jobs and keeping it secret from both their employers.

Among them is a social worker who submitted timesheets for the same core working hours at Hampshire County Council and Southend-On-Sea Borough Council. The deception was only discovered when the social worker was on a Teams meeting with HCC and was heard, via an unmuted mic, to answer a call: “Hi, you’re through to Southend Children’s Services.” In a written representation to a Fitness to Practise hearing, the social worker says: “I was working two jobs. However, it must be noted that in Hampshire I was only in my second week and doing training/induction. It was never my intention to maintain two jobs.” She adds: “I had also told my agency that I would like to do the two jobs and then decide which of the two I preferred.” The social worker was sacked by both councils and barred from the profession, reports Social Work News.

Cases of “multiple contract working” are being looked at by the Cabinet Office’s National Fraud Initiative (NFI) to combat fraudulent claims on the public purse. According to Tracey Carpenter, insider threat manager at industry fraud prevention body Cifas, moonlighting “is starting to gather pace in the UK”. She says: “The polygamous working trend has been seen across both permanent and temporary staff and several role types in local authorities.”

What is time theft?

The boom in home and hybrid working brought on by the pandemic has led to a rise in moonlighting, according to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. The council’s annual fraud report reveals how a solicitor, among others, was caught working full-time for another public body. Working from home creates new types of risk when “during a cost-of-living crisis, a second income becomes very alluring”, the report adds. Moonlighting is not a breach of the council’s code of conduct. However, staff must obtain consent from their head of service for a second job. The report explains: “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 theft of time when an employee knowingly collects two full-time salaries but splits the hours, so they only work 50% of the time for each one.” Four employees have been caught with secret dual positions since April 2022, says a council spokesman.

Meanwhile at Wakefield Council, three employees are alleged to have been working in second jobs while on sickness leave from the council, according to a report to the Audit and Governance Committee in December 2021. At Enfield Council, five people were found to have undertaken undeclared secondary employment in 2022-23.

How do people working two jobs cope with clashing meetings or keep their double life a secret from their bosses? And how do they avoid burnout? There are online forums advising people looking to moonlight in two or more remote jobs, also known as “overemployment”. The website Overemployed.com promotes this deception as a way to pick up two salaries and achieve financial freedom in the near future. The US-based website offers advice on everything from avoiding getting caught to tech set-up and taking Sundays off. Top tips include separate laptops for each job and a mechanical “mouse jiggler” that makes it look like you are working when you’re not. As the name suggests, the device moves the physical computer mouse to prevent sleep mode. The idea is that the device can trick any surveillance software on company-issued computers to track employee screen time. Of course, it won’t help with lack of productivity.

“The ability to work remotely has fuelled an abuse of company time,” warns Carpenter. “For example, if someone is working in a physical office, it is unlikely they would have multiple laptops on their desks to work their multiple roles at once.” Some experts argue double jobbing is a myth arising from fears around remote working, based on newspaper headlines arising from one or two cases. Asked for hard evidence, Carpenter says polygamous working comes under “abuse of company time” recorded on the Cifas Insider Threat Database. The number of incidents of abuse of company time (an umbrella term which can also include falsifying time sheets and sharing log-in details to appear to be working) increased from eight in 2021 to 14 in 2022 and 19 in 2022. With more than 700 members in the public and private sector, those aren’t exactly huge numbers. Cifas was unable to provide a breakdown of the figures to show incidents of fraudulent moonlighting.

However, Carpenter says the issue may be underreported. “That’s why we’re working closely with members (and wider stakeholders and authorities) to encourage more data sharing so that we can help organisations to better understand, detect and report incidents, and put in place preventative measures.” Red flags include underperformance and poor attendance. Cifas has received reports of workers “outsourcing to a third party, so they can manage multiple full-time jobs at one time”, adds Carpenter. Key risks include data security.

One case that hit the headlines in 2013 was a software developer in the US who spent workdays surfing the web and watching cat videos online. He allegedly paid just a fifth of his six-figure salary to a firm based in China to do his job. “Authentication was no problem. He physically FedExed his RSA (security) token to China so a third-party contractor could log-in under his credentials during the workday. It would appear he was working an average nine-to-five day,” Andrew Valentine, of Verizon, told Help Net Security, an internet security website. The firm called in Verizon to investigate what it suspected had been malware used to route confidential information from the company to China.

In 2019, 1.2m people in the UK had a second job, according to the National Population Survey, the latest figures available. This pre-dates the pandemic and includes those with part-time jobs. It’s impossible to know the scale of fraudulent moonlighting as some have never been caught, others advised to resign without further action or whose dismissals have been kept quiet by their company for fear of reputational damage.

2nd jobber claims £10k in sick pay

In Suffolk, a council worker narrowly escaped jail after claiming more than £10k in sick pay while secretly working a second job. The youth support worker dishonestly claimed the five-figure sick pay sum between December 2022 and May 2023, a magistrates court heard. A care agency tipped off a fraud squad that she was working for them despite being officially signed-off sick. An investigation uncovered the council employee had worked for a private agency during five spells of absence – the longest was two months. She was sentenced to six months in jail, suspended for two years. The council worker was ordered to pay back more than £17k in cost and compensation.

Is it against the law to secretly hold two jobs?

There is no law that makes secretly holding two jobs illegal. In most cases, it is classed as employee misconduct and a disciplinary matter. Getting caught could lead to instant dismissal for gross misconduct, making it difficult to secure another job in future. As solicitor Howard Robson, employment partner at solicitors Warner Goodman, explains: “So-called double-jobbing is not unlawful. The employee’s contract may require consent to be given (for a second job) by an existing employer, failing to do so may be misconduct. Problems arise if one job impacts the other, such as inadequate rest periods, excessive working time or poor performance.”

But some employees who secretly work two full-time jobs may face criminal charges. In addition to disciplinary action or loss of both jobs, if the individual carried out the deception by falsifying time sheets or some other fraudulent activity it could lead to time behind bars. “Fraud carries a penalty of up to 10 years prison and a fine if sufficiently serious,” says Robson.

This is a complex area of law: there is no specific right to monitor or prevent it

Qarrar Somji, director of Witan Solicitors, adds: “Fraud being both a civil and criminal offence, it can be dealt with by the police once the employee is reported to them. Alternatively, the employer can take direct civil action against the employee, which would be in addition to terminating their employment.” Under the Employment Rights Act 1996, wages can be clawed back if there has been an overpayment. From a tax standpoint, if the employee pays PAYE on both roles, there would be no tax offence, says Somji.

How can employers guard against double-jobbing? Robson suggests a ‘whole time and attention’ clause in contracts, requiring permission for second jobs, performance and welfare reviews. Electronic monitoring is allowed to monitor a remote workforce. Robson says: “This is a complex area of law; there is no specific right to monitor or prevent it. The situation is governed by UK Data Protection laws under GDPR, issues such as Human Rights Act may also be engaged. An employer should adopt a clear and unambiguous electronic communications policy.”

Ultimately, the freedom and flexibility of remote working involves trust, so the employer and employee benefit. What does polygamous employment signal for the future? Is traditional nine-to-five working with just one job at a time on the way out? Might the issue be tackled by bosses paying gig workers per project instead of taking on full-time staff? As Scott Belsky, chief project officer for Adobe, predicts in a piece for Business Insider, “one’s profession will be a portfolio of projects, whether you’re a designer, engineer, salesperson or investor.”

Image credit | iStock

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