During the pandemic, a certain practice ended up being written of in national media and became a topic of discussion, though I don’t know how prevalent it became in fact. This was the practice of working several jobs from home. In particular, I’ve heard about it quite a bit from IT people.
The individuals who took these jobs were accepting pay by the hour, but then would take several of these positions at once.
There are a number of rationalizations, including that as long as that job duties are getting done, It isn’t really your employer’s business whether you have another job during the same hours they are paying you for, the need for financial security, the lack of opportunities, the exploitation by employers, and the autonomy of workers.
I’ll say, in an age of high inflation, high cost of living, and relatively wages compared to productivity, I can relate. I understand why people would think that this is a just thing to do.
But here’s the thing: It’s not just, it’s not ethical, it’s not moral,it’s not legal. Don’t do it. (Don’t worry, I’ll tell you how you can do it ethically and morally and legally at the end)
The argument of “As long as job duties are getting done, it isn’t really your employers business whether you have another job” makes a lot of assumptions that aren’t necessarily valid. Just because you are getting paid at a job and you haven’t been fired yet does not mean you’re doing perfectly fine and everything is okay. Labor law makes certain assumptions about the employer employee relationship and as such a Grant’s additional protections that someone doing peace mill work wouldn’t have. It’s often very difficult to fire an underperforming worker, and so management will keep them on even though they’re not particularly happy with the job they’re doing. They may even tell the employee that everything is just fine. In that case, they’re not doing it because the employee is hitting all of his targets and everything is fine, they’re doing it because the cost and effort involved in trying to get rid of a bad employee is so high it’s easier to just deal with an underperforming team member. At that point, then you have that underperforming team member go off and work three other jobs because they are under the impression that they are a Superstar who hits all their targets. In reality, that worker is just taking advantage of both sides of the equation, working like a subcontractor well accepting the benefits of full-time employment and the protections therein.
When an employer is paying you for that hour, it is your employer’s business what you’re doing. The moment that you accept payment for that hour of your time, it is no longer your time, it’s their time to do with as they will within reason.
One can make the argument for financial security, but I don’t really feel like that’s an ethical argument as much as a practical one. Of course we all want to make more money, and if there’s a way to make more money then you’re making more money, but that isn’t a moral or ethical argument. Robbing old people is another way you could make more money and be more financially secure, but most people would agree that robbing old people isn’t moral or ethical. For something such as a highly paid information technology position, there are lots of people who end up trying to make it without highly paid information technology positions, and while it may be a struggle they do successfully accomplish it. Moreover if you are taking two or three full-time jobs, then that means one or two other people who also need to make ends meet suddenly can’t get those positions because someone else has them.
Complaining about a lack of opportunities while taking up several opportunities just seems hypocritical to me. Several people could have taken up those jobs, and instead one person is going to do a half-ass job at a bunch of them. Again, this isn’t an ethical argument, it’s a practical one.
There’s an argument that workers are being exploited and therefore the workers should exploit right back. This isn’t the sort of argument that we want to be making. The company is paying you have all the power in the world to make everyone’s life a lot worse because a minority of people are trying to scam them. A race to the bottom is not good. If you feel like you’re being exploited, then it’s time to take measures to stop being exploited, that doesn’t justify exploiting others. Moreover, if it becomes common practice for workers to be working several jobs at once, this doesn’t actually make the workers less exploited. Effectively, it will artificially drive up the supply of labor, meaning that companies won’t have to compete as hard for workers, meaning that the labor market will become more exploitative. As well, the people who are working two or three jobs won’t need to be making enough money to survive because they’ve got two or three jobs, meaning but the people who are doing this are effectively making it harder for people who aren’t doing this to survive on one job, again ensuring that the labor market becomes more exploitative, not less.
Finally, as I’ve already said, the autonomy of workers is a moot argument because once they are paying you for your time it is not your time to be autonomous within. The more people try to scam the systems we live in, the more those systems are going to push back and workers who are otherwise being honest are going to face less autonomy because the employers are going to feel that they can’t trust their workers if they aren’t being micromanaged.
There’s another major issue, and that’s not working from home is already considered an extremely privileged position. People who work from home don’t need to commute, they’re working conditions can be whatever they wish them to be, including listening to whatever they want on the radio, watching YouTube videos while working, even having a beer in the backyard while attending meetings as long as you don’t get caught. So you have these people who are some of the most privileged in the entire job market, and they take this privilege and they end up using it to take yet another privilege, this ability to work two or three jobs at the same time that people who are still in the office don’t get. In terms of fairness, fairness is completely out the window once we’re talking about disparities like that.
I would suspect that over time, if this became a widespread practice then it would just mean the end to work from home. Employers aren’t employing people so that they can be number three or number four on the list.
Consider a loan you take out yourself. You can take out a variable rate loan, or you can take out a fixed rate loan. If you take out a variable rate loan and rates drop, then the bank passes the savings on to you, but if rates rise, the bank passes the costs on to you. If you take out a fixed rate loan, then if rates drop the bank benefits, but if rates rise the bank takes that risk. For that reason, the bank charges a bit more for a fixed rate loan, because they’re taking on the risk of interest rates rising. The longer the rate is locked in, the larger the premium you pay because the bank is taking on more risk that interest rates rise. So imagine that you were in a situation like that, and you had a variable rate mortgage and interest rates dropped and the bank refused to register the drop in interest rates. In that case, you were spending less money so that the bank would be taking less risk but it broke the deal. How about if you had a fixed rate mortgage, and rates continue to rise, and the bank refused to honor your interest rate and just increased it because it wanted to. During the good times you had paid a premium in order to have that fixed interest rate, and they stepped in and broke the deal.
Let’s say that you were hiring someone to build a deck. And you paid them time and materials to build that deck. Let’s say that you were home for a full day, and you knew full well that they weren’t at your house building that deck, but then you saw an invoice come in for that full day of labor. Would you be okay with that? How about if you saw the crew that you were paying for at another place building someone else’s deck? How about if you found out that on that day they were charging three other people to build their decks, but only one of them actually had the crew at their house building their deck. Would you accept “I don’t know what the problem is, your deck got built didn’t it?” — I think most people would be in court and rightfully so. That company that said that they would be building your deck, that charged you to build your deck that day that wasn’t their building your deck committed fraud. Let’s say that the entire crew is just sitting there waiting for the cement truck to arrive. And you’re paying the entire crew to just sit there. That’s what they’re getting paid for. Just because they’re not doing anything doesn’t mean that they can go off and work on someone else’s deck on your dime. If they go off to work on someone else’s deck, that person can pay for the work crew..
So let’s say that you agree to a company to get paid a certain amount of money each day to be available for a certain number of hours that day to work. Whether you are productive or not you make the same amount of money. The company is taking the risk here. The hours that you are productive, they pay you. The hours that you’re completely unproductive, they pay you. If there’s nothing to do but stand around, that’s what they’re paying you to do. If you want to go work for someone else during those hours, you should turn off the payments from the one employer and turn on the payments to the other employer. Of course, that isn’t how most employment contracts work because for jobs the employer wants your time and is paying for it.
So how do you do this morley, legally, ethically, etc? It’s really straightforward. Be honest.
If you want to establish a contract with an employer where you’re going to be working for several employers, that’s something you’ll have to negotiate. You can set it up where there are certain performance guarantees they’re paying for in maintenance work such as keeping KPIs above a certain level, and if it takes less time to achieve those KPIs you come out ahead and if it takes more time to achieve those KPIs you come out behind and are likely charged a penalty. You can set it up where you’re charging by the hour, and if you’re charging another employer for an hour you don’t charge the employers you aren’t working at for the same hour. This will mean that your employer is no longer paying you a premium for the risk taken of you not being productive in a certain hour, and either you’re taking the risk that you need much more time to achieve your KPIs than you expected, or you’re taking the risk that you don’t have anything to do so you can’t charge any of your employers for your time.
If you’d prefer keeping the employers separate, then you’ll have to do something like staggering the hours so you work 8 hours at Employer A and 8 hours at Employer B. Notwithstanding any clauses in your employment contract preventing you from moonlighting, this is usually totally acceptable (but it’s also a recipe for burn-out), and you get to keep the benefits of the company taking on the risk of time you’re getting paid but not being productive for them.
This isn’t a novel problem, it only appears as such to people working in jobs who have an opportunity to deal with multiple clients at once. It’s a problem professionals have had to deal with forever. If you’re a contract lawyer or engineer working in a central office you operate independently of any particular client, you might have many clients. It’s written into the codes of conduct for these professions that you must bill fairly, and if you double bill for the same hour you’ve committed a crime and will be punished both by the law and by your professional regulator.
Let’s go back to our deck example. If you agreed at the outset to pay a fixed fee for the deck installation within a certain period of time then it doesn’t matter where the work crew is or who it’s doing work for because you’re not paying for the time the deck builders spend on your job, you’re paying for a deck and it’s their risk to make sure they do the job on time and on budget or they’ll take the hit. Otherwise, they could charge by the hour (or even by the 15 minute chunk) and meticulously ensure that only one client was being charged for time at one time. In that way, the deck builder could get paid ethically and legally. It would benefit you during times like waiting for the cement truck because someone else would be paying for the work crew at that time.
Of course, all this could get turned on its head if you manage to find some employers who are willing to pay you an hourly wage and are ok with you double charging by having multiple jobs. You’ll want to get such an unorthodox agreement in writing from all the parties involved, because it’s highly unusual and a simple verbal agreement isn’t likely to hold up in court if the employer/employee relationship goes south and they decide to sue you for breach of contract.
There’s another issue you need to be aware of: Depending on your position (and typically this only applies to high level executives or managers), you may have a fiduciary duty to the companies you work on. That means that you need to put the company’s needs above your own. In such a case, you may not be able to be employed by both a company and its competitors and meet that obligation, and that might not be something you can sign away.
These concepts apply to engineering technologists and tradesmen equally, though most tradesmen are not held to any sort of professional code of ethics, they are held to laws against fraud. It’s something to keep in mind because if unethical practices become common, there will be consequences as companies strive to protect themselves from fraud.