Side hustles. Second jobs. Whatever you call them, they've soared in popularity in recent years.
Some people have unfortunately had little choice but to seek extra work due to the cost-of-living crisis, while others have voluntarily sought out more work to generate higher income, or monetise their hobbies.
And for the most part, embracing your employees’ side hustles can bring huge benefits to the workplace. Workers can cross over cultural insights and different skills between their different roles.
For example, an employee who spends their weekends coaching a football team can bring delegation and leadership skills to the office.
However, complications arise when an employee exploits the system. And the issue is becoming so prevalent that the UK’s National Fraud Initiative (NFI) is working on a major investigation into council workers who are ‘moonlighting’ in second jobs while working from home.
The fraud squad, which is overseen by the Cabinet Office, is investigating cases of "multiple contract working". This typically sees a hybrid or fully remote worker exploit their employer’s flexible working benefits to secretly hold down more than one job - collecting two full-time salaries while splitting their time between two workplaces.
The NFI argues, therefore, that these employees are committing time theft as well as financial fraud.
A Cabinet Office spokesman said: "The National Fraud Initiative matches and compares pieces of data provided by private and public sector organisations to identify fraud cases.
"Last year, its work delivered savings of £171 million for taxpayers.
"One of the types of fraud cases the National Fraud Initiative has identified includes multiple contracts working, where an individual misleadingly works in two roles at the same time, including at local councils."
Staff exploiting WFH
Several notable examples of public sector employees secretly working two jobs have emerged in 2023.
Earlier this year, an employee of Kensington and Chelsea council was found to have taken up a position with another housing association while ‘off sick’ from her local authority role.
She was rumbled when colleagues spotted an email from the rival organisation, which contained the woman’s name (albeit slightly altered). It also contained a profile image, which employees were stunned to realise was their ‘sick’ co-worker.
Bosses launched an investigation and found the employee had been working for the other company on the days she was supposedly too ill to work for the council.
Another incident from earlier in 2023 involved an unnamed worker employed by Birmingham City Council, who was found to have exploited their remote working arrangements by moonlighting in another full-time role with the NHS.
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The case was brought to light because the worker had wrongly claimed one role was “casual” and as such was not paying the full income tax that they should have owed on two full-time roles. In the report, which was first reported on by Birmingham Live, the NFI explained: "A payroll match identified an employee who had joined Birmingham City Council but also held a casual role as bank staff at a local NHS Trust. The match highlighted that the salary for the casual role was higher than expected.
"Initial enquiries established that the employee was working full-time for both organisations. An investigation found that both roles were being undertaken whilst working at home, allowing the fraudulent claims to be made.
"It also identified a period where the individual had worked for one organisation whilst claiming to be unfit for work at the other.”
The NFI said the worker was sacked by both the council and the NHS after the discovery was made. It added that the council is now seeking to reclaim an estimated £16,000 in wages.
‘Theft and deception’
While the examples above highlight the issue facing public sector workplaces, this could clearly happen at any business which offers remote and hybrid working.
For example, a similar situation unfolded in October 2022, when A CEO revealed he had sacked two employees after discovering they were working multiple jobs.
Davis Bell, CEO of tech firm Canopy, took to LinkedIn to explain that two recently-hired engineers had hidden the fact that they also were also employed elsewhere during the recruitment process, prompting the firm to dismiss them after learning the truth.
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Bell explained that the staff caught red-handed weren’t simply holding down second jobs, but were working full-time at two different firms, thus causing a huge breach of trust and also resulting in poor work performance.
"They were following a new trend of picking up a second, full-time job while lying about it to both employers,” Bell wrote on LinkedIn.
“This is not about side hustles or moonlighting. These were people holding down two, full-time synchronous jobs and lying about it - trying to be in two meetings at once, etc. Their early performance was really bad, and fortunately we have great managers who sniffed them out very quickly.”
He went on: “Whenever I read stories in the media about people doing this I'm usually surprised that they don't make a bigger deal of the core moral issues at play: "working" two full-time jobs is stealing, and it also involves a great deal of lying and deception.
"It's a new form of theft and deception, and not something in which an ethical, honest person would participate."
How should HR respond if employees have side hustles?
While it’s not acceptable for employees to be merging two full-time roles into the same hours of the day, there is still lots for HR to consider when it comes to their workers juggling their time between separate roles.
Karen Holden, CEO of A City Law Firm, previously told HR Grapevine that if an employee has a side hustle, it is crucial to get as much information as possible regarding the nature of their ventures.
“You need to be mindful about whether there is any risk that the employee will be competing for business against the employer and whether any intellectual property being created for the side hustle may actually be of value to the employer.
“You need to consider whether the side hustle should really be run through the business of the employer, this is more likely to be the case where the employee is in the creative space or responsible for business development.
“HR should also consider whether the employee is still able to safely perform its role for the business and closely monitor any performance issues which may arise as a result from the employee being distracted or tired,” Holden added.
Additionally, the legal expert said that if an employer is accepting of side hustles, it should put in place clear policies and boundaries.
“[This will] ensure that employees still provide the agreed level of commitment to their employer, fulfil its contractual obligations, not compete and not use company resources for its own side hustle including company time, intellectual property, trade secrets, confidential information and/or equipment,” Holden concluded