Moonlighting isn’t infidelity or promiscuity; let’s not be squeamish

Moonlighting isn’t infidelity or promiscuity; let’s not be squeamish

If a person armed with requisite skills is pursuing income-enhancement options then why cavil at his noble efforts and intent?

While Infosys’ recent internal communication to its employees warning them to have “no double lives”, in reference to the fairly common practice of IT employees taking up additional jobs, has caused a flutter in trade union and commentariat circles, its founder NR Narayana Murthy’s 2016 tongue-in-cheek missive provides clear advice to leave the office on time and not spoil the work culture of the employer. 

Murthy also counsels the bachelors not to linger on to while away their time and savour creature comforts in the office without seeking them at home, at their expense. But the leitmotif of his mail is employees must leave after office hours and do pretty much what they please. 

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While the redoubtable Murthy might not have openly batted in favour of moonlighting, the drift of the mail was that lingering on after office hours projected both the employer and employee in a bad light.

Ages-old practice

Moonlighting has existed for ages. In the US, while a federal employee cannot receive income simultaneously from another federal source, there is no bar on anyone working for someone else after office hours. So much so that a policeman often works as a security guard or manager after office hours. 

Closer home, Indian doctors prefer ‘on call’ assignments from diverse hospitals in their vicinity for the mutual benefit of the hospital and the doctor — cost-cutting for the former, and income from multiple sources for the latter.

With the pandemic time work-from-home (WFH) practice becoming de rigueur, particularly in the IT sector, even as the COVID threat tapers off, it is time for the industry to switch to work contracts with IT professionals in lieu of employment so that the façade of employer-employee relationship is pierced and the reality of principal-contractor dawns wide in the open. It would spare the employer several expenses chiefly towards retirement benefits like contribution to provident fund, leave travel concession (LTC), etc. The professional would be spared the blushes. 

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While doing remote jobs, it is impossible for an employer to keep tabs on whether a techie is indeed moonlighting. This is why Tech Mahindra chief CP Gurnani is more realistic when he says that his company could make moonlighting kosher if the employees are open about it.

Confidentiality clause

The possibility of confidentiality being broken must be addressed. An employee is bound by the confidentiality clause, but then there is no reason why the same cannot be written into contracts for jobs parcelled out to the IT professionals from time to time. 

It is necessary for a service centre not to be promiscuously servicing rival brands lest spurious parts get into a reputed brand, as was held by the National Consumer Forum decades ago in the Sony Electronics case. But a pure cerebral service provider like the IT professional need not be unnecessarily tied down to one company at a time as she can be expected to strictly compartmentalise her energies and efforts.

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The general opinion born of prejudice that moonlighting is practically promiscuity heaped on infidelity is at the root of the problem. If a person armed with requisite skills is pursuing income-enhancement options then why cavil at his noble efforts and intent? 

I remember stenographers of the central secretariat pedalling energetically to lawyer’s offices to take dictation from them and type legal documents. It suited both. A fledgling lawyer couldn’t afford a full-time steno and a full-time steno needed to supplement his income, unable to make both the ends meet in those days when the government salary was abysmal.

Union up in arms

Infosys’ missive to its employees, asserting that dual employment or moonlighting is not permitted, and warning that any violation of contract clauses will trigger disciplinary action “which could even lead to termination of employment,” has raised the hackles of both techies and their nascent Pune-based union Information Technology Employees Senate (NITES). 

The union, of course, is being hyper technical when it says no one can work for two employers simultaneously in the face of Aadhaar (the identity card) and UAN (the lifetime identity for an EPFO member), as his game would be exposed when the system rejects two or more PF contributions for the same month. It forgets that moonlighting is a part time job after office hours that is often an hourly or piece rate without fattened by retiral or annual benefits.

“Moonlighting is a practice of working on a second job during normal business hours/outside business hours. Infosys as a company strictly discourages dual employment,” according to the latest mailer that has caused the kerfuffle. It forgets that what a person does outside business hours is strictly speaking not within the remit of the employer.

In the gig economy towards which the world is inexorably moving, an intrepid cab driver picks custom from both Ola and Uber. If he can straddle both worlds, why cavil at his enterprise and abilities? Industrialists and entrepreneurs while upping the ante at hardworking garden variety employees, strangely have no qualms about part-time company directors flitting from one board meeting to another with eye on pocketing attractive sitting fees. 

The point is: so long as there is no compromise with the quality of job and no conflict-of-interest scenario, one should be allowed to earn his keep.


In a surreal way, Infosys’ worldview of moonlighting is seemingly at odds with its promoter Murthy’s. He has been opposed to the culture of winner-takes-it-all — mind-boggling honcho remuneration that leaves the second in command pitifully behind. 

It is common knowledge that Infosys drivers and peons became millionaires on the back of stock options — thanks to the democratisation of shareholding among the public investors, including the employees at the bottom of the heap initiated — when Murthy was at the helm. To be sure, he has not spoken on moonlighting, but by connecting the dots, it is obvious that far from grudging lower-level employees striking it rich, he would be happy seeing them working towards prosperity. So what if it is through moonlighting.

(The writer is a CA by qualification, and writes on business, consumer issues and fiscal laws.)

(The Federal seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Federal)

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