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Workplace

The trouble with moonlighting Add to ...

When reporter Hugo Rodrigues joined the daily newspaper the Sentinel-Review in Woodstock, Ont., in 2003, he revealed to his boss, the managing editor, that he would also be working evening and weekend shifts at the local YMCA as an advanced swimming instructor. "I wanted to maintain my credentials," he says.

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Mr. Rodrigues didn't hesitate to tell his boss about the moonlighting. "I felt it was fair that they know I was working a second job. I need to know as early in the week as possible if I'm going to be working an evening shift at the paper so that I can find a replacement at the Y. And it's not appropriate for me to report on news events involving the Y.

'They've been quite flexible at the paper. 'As long as you get your work in, we are not going to quibble,' has been the attitude," he says.

But is it always the right move for a worker to disclose a part-time job to his or her full-time employer? Since most staff don't have an employee agreement - and employment agreements rarely prohibit outside work - it's a judgment call whether to disclose.

"There's no rule against someone having a second job," says Stuart Rudner, an employment lawyer with Miller Thomson LLP in Toronto. "What someone does away from work is their own business. But there are exceptions." The most obvious: if the second job creates a conflict of interest. "If you're working for Microsoft during the day, you can't moonlight for Apple," he says.

If the after-hours job results in absenteeism, persistent late arrival or lower productivity at the primary workplace, that may be grounds for dismissal, though it would have to be justified on the basis of poor performance rather than simply having a second job.

Nevertheless, Mr. Rudner advises employees to divulge their part-time work to their full-time employer. "If the part-time work is perceived as a conflict, it at least gives the employee a chance to talk it over with the employer and perhaps persuade him that it is not. Secondly, if the employee is terminated and sues for wrongful dismissal, the courts will look more favourably upon employees who disclosed upfront."

Not all employers, however, wish to be disclosed to. Consider A.P. Plasman Corp., a Windsor, Ont., company that specializes in painted plastic for auto exteriors. "We don't want to be too restrictive in telling employees what they can and cannot do outside working hours," says Mila Lucio, vice-president of human resources.

A.P. Plasman addresses the question in its employee handbook and orientation. "Even though we don't restrict workers from holding secondary employment [except with a competitor] our expectation is that they put us as a priority, and are willing and able to perform the work here," Ms. Lucio says.

"I'm going to trust them until I've got a reason to question them, such as performance difficulties or unavailability for shift time."

In the seven years she's been with the company, moonlighting has been an issue only two or three times - that was when an employee said he wasn't available to work overtime on a Saturday because he had another job.

"It wouldn't be acceptable to us for them to say, 'I'm sorry, but I have this other job I need to go to, so I can't accommodate this change in hours.'" But provided that priority is understood, Ms. Lucio sees no need for disclosure.

She doesn't think disclosure would be useful to a manager or supervisor. "Then they've got that in the back of their mind if they're experiencing any other kind of difficulty with the employee. They might jump to the conclusion [that the part-time job is causing the difficulty] It's information that is not necessarily helpful to them managing their issues on a daily basis."

Shirin Khamisa, a Toronto-based career counsellor and principal of Careers by Design, sees both potential positives as well as negatives in disclosure.

"It could be a really small industry that you're employed in," she says. "If you're going to hold down a second job, you may want to be upfront and honest with your boss rather than having him find out from someone else."

If the moonlighting job is in a different industry, there are multiple factors to consider in deciding whether or not to disclose. "How would this news of having a part-time job impact your relationship with your current boss? Will it enhance or take away from your professional image?"

Sometimes a part-time commitment can actually benefit the full-time employer, says Ms. Khamisa. "You may be developing a bigger network or doing creative things that, when you come back to your primary job, help you to see new opportunities. You might be acquiring new skills which you are then bringing back, too."

One key factor in deciding for or against disclosure might be the boss's mindset, adds Ms. Khamisa. "If you've known your boss for a while, think about what his or her perception would be. Some personalities are able to multi-task, but other personalities don't do so well with that.

"If you find that your boss is very focused and doesn't have a lot of balls in the air at once, then even though you're capable of handling both commitments, he may not perceive it that way. If that's the case, you may wish to keep things on a need-to-know basis."

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