New work from home rules are being exploited by a small but growing group of employees who choose to work two full-time jobs at once. While advocates see it as a smart way to claim double pay, there are moral and legal issues to consider.
The first rule of overemployment; don’t talk about overemployment. That’s according to one member of a growing community of employees who hope working two remote jobs can help them reach financial freedom.
In an unintended consequence of the shift to remote working, these employees seek to exploit the lack of oversight managers now have to try and cash in multiple paycheques from different companies and protect against the risk of losing a job in the midst of the pandemic.
It’s a trend that has found a home with workers in the US technology sector, where there is a high demand for talent and the emphasis is on productivity rather than face time with management or clients. However, there are also people joining the overemployed movement from the world of finance, design and product development.
One practitioner of overemployment, who goes by the alias of Isaac Price online, decided to look for a new job after rumours of impending redundancies began surfacing at his current employer towards the end of 2020. But, after being offered another position, he didn’t hand in his notice. Instead, he decided to try and continue working both roles until his stock vested in the first company.
He says: “I thought I would try it for a couple of weeks and then it turned into three or four months.” Now, after nearly a year of balancing two full-time workloads, Price has no plans to return to just one job. “It really plays to my strengths,” he says. “Once I had two jobs, I became a lot more relaxed.”
Is overemployment a growing trend?
Price is not alone. Over the past few months he has noticed a spike in people visiting his website, which provides advice on balancing the demands of working multiple full-time roles, managing conflicting meetings and establishing low expectations with your two employers, without raising suspicions. The accompanying Discord channel, where people share their experiences of keeping up a second - or sometimes even third - job has more than 450 members.
Although the potential to earn double the salary is frequently cited as a reason for joining, others wanted to remove the risk of redundancy. This was a particularly important factor for those in the US, as employers regularly subsidise employees’ health insurance premiums – a particularly useful benefit during a global pandemic.
Price says: “Software developers have incredible leverage; one developer can create millions of dollars in value for these tech companies. We are just treating ourselves like businesses and diversifying our incomes so that if one employer decides to lay you off, you still have another source of income.”
Chloe, another practitioner of overemployment who also did not want to be identified by her last name, says: “I have seen layoffs at every company that I’ve worked with. Neither performance nor tenure mattered. Working two jobs is my way to ensure a good outcome for myself, within the limits of what’s acceptable.”
A separate member of the overemployed online community, who spoke anonymously, has juggled a variety of web development positions across the UK and EU over the past three years in what he describes online as his “double-job-fuck-capitalism adventure”.
The process has not been without its stresses – at one point he was fired due to a lack of productivity. “The problem with doing two jobs is that you’re working much fewer hours than would normally be required to achieve the right results. You need to be smart in the way you do things.”
Although he is currently taking a break from working two positions, he enjoys the financial freedom that comes with having two full-time jobs. “Working for someone else means that you’re allowing someone else to harvest the value you create through your work,” he says. “The only way to get out of it is to have enough money.”
The 27-year-old hopes that being overemployed will mean he can save enough money to retire in his 30s.
What are the legal and HR issues of working two jobs?
There is recognition that collecting a salary from two employers is questionable, with Price comparing getting caught by a manager to being found cheating on your partner. But he remains adamant that “it’s all perfectly legal”.
However, this is how Slater and Gordon employment lawyer Jo Mackie sees it. She claims there are many “liabilities and tricky issues” associated with taking two salaries. Although unable to comment specifically on US employment laws, Mackie adds: “The number one issue would be misleading your employer because of the duty of trust and confidence that you have between employee and employer. Often if that’s broken then it’s a sufficient reason to terminate a contract.”
The second issue relates to exclusivity clauses and conflict of interest, as the second job is likely to be with a competitor in the same industry. Lastly, Mackie points to the working time regulations, which applies to the UK and countries in the EU and limits workers to 48 hours a week, unless opted out of. Although there is no limit on the number of hours employees aged 16 years or older may work in the US, employees must receive overtime for any time worked over 40 hours within a week.
Sarah Beaumont, director of HR at Hunter Adams, agrees that concealing a second full-time job from an employer could potentially be a breach of contract, but adds: “From an ethical perspective, if an employee is being paid for the same time by more than one company they are deceiving one, if not more, of their employers.”
If an employee is found to have deceived their employer, an investigation and disciplinary action would likely follow and could culminate in dismissal for gross misconduct, Beaumont claims. “Legalities and breaches of contract aside, attempting to work more than one full-time job is a sure fire way to achieve burnout,” she adds.
For Price and other members of the overemployed community, this may prove little deterrent – the secret, after all, is not to get caught. He accepts that one of his employers would probably let him go, if they found out, but adds: “I would tell people to go and get the jobs that your skills can command. If it’s five jobs then go for it, I would take them all.”