Sunday, May 11, 2014
Is moonlighting on company time ever OK?
Years ago, a former colleague at a magazine left to take a job at another publication. He was a star writer on our staff, one of the most productive, and left on great terms. He also moonlighted while on the job, something he made public in an article he wrote for his new publication.
At first, he noted, he relegated his moonlighting to times when he was away from the office. Soon, however, he started using downtime at work for some moonlighting, utilizing company supplies and equipment, He always made the deadlines for our publication, but he made clear in the article that the money he earned moonlighting soon surpassed what he made from his full-time job.
While this writer reported his moonlighting income to the IRS, and his outside client wasn't in the same business as that covered by our magazine, he never told his boss that he was essentially working a side job while on the clock. Clearing his moonlighting activities with the boss always struck me as something he should have done. The boss didn't find out until he read the article in our former colleague's new magazine.
I was reminded of the moonlighting escapade when a graduate student -- whose job it was to man a desk for several hours in case students came seeking outside help for a course -- asked me recently if it was OK for him to do other work while he waited for students to show up. Often, no one visited him throughout his shift. When students did seek help, they never took up all of the hours the grad student had available.
Still, the grad student felt that somehow there might be something wrong with doing other work while he waited.
He could have dissuaded himself of any guilt by simply asking the professor for whom he worked if it was OK for him to complete other tasks as he waited for students. But the burden of doing so was not as great for him as it was for my former colleague.
The grad student was hired for one specific task: to be in the office ready to help students if they needed assistance. My magazine colleague, on the other hand, was hired as a full-time contributor to the publication. Even though he met his deadlines and was productive, had the boss known that my colleague had a significant amount of downtime, it would have been perfectly appropriate for the boss to ask him to take on more during the workday. He was being paid to do more than sit at a desk waiting for students to come by.
As long as the grad student fulfilled the function for which he was hired -- and dropped everything whenever a student showed up for assistance -- he could rest easy knowing he was doing the right thing and not taking advantage of his boss.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin