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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Multiple Job Holder

Rejecting Ed Miliband’s proposal recently, MPs have voted to continue to allow themselves to have second jobs. Many hold directorships and consultancies, though the Commons also boasts lawyers, a GP, a dentist, a lecturer, farmers and sundry journalists/media workers. They all say that having these outside workplace activities make them better MPs. Perhaps. Judging by the complexity and administrative difficulty of some of the workplace legislation emerging from Westminster in recent years (I’m thinking shared parental leave currently) many of us working in business may have doubts about the MPs’ grasp of the realities of life in SMEs.

The decision may be a disappointment to those who believe being an MP is a job in itself and focus should be exclusively on parliamentary and constituency matters. Others may be accepting. Since political programmes have been known to criticise MPs (who are not employees by the way) for lacking real world experience and business knowledge, perhaps it’s not a bad thing, subject to proper attention and time being devoted to the role of MPs and interests and emoluments being declared and the rules on corruption being correctly observed.

Outside Parliament, how practical is it for employees to have a second job? For most jobs, there will often be no legal or competitive problem. A person who works as a carpenter during the day and does bar work at night is hardly a problem to each company’s security or financial advancement. There are advantages to anyone holding two different jobs, as it presents an opportunity to learn new skills and experience that could be useful for both organisations. A weekday call centre operator who works as a sales assistant on the weekends may develop customer-handling skills through direct contact with people whom he or she cannot ‘cut off’. It can also help employees develop good time management skills.

The legal problems arise when someone has two very similar jobs which creates a conflict of interest or breaches contractual or fiduciary duties owed to the main employer.

Most companies will have a contractual term to prevent employees taking a second job without direct permission, but even that has to be interpreted reasonably. If, when the decision is made, the second job seems perfectly reasonable, but at a later date becomes a conflict of interest, will the employee come clean or even realise? For example, a director at a large advertising agency works on a part-time basis advising a local authority on marketing leisure facilities. He may be perceived to be in a position to influence the placing of advertising and direct it to his principal employer. If the position developed gradually over time, he may not be fully aware the problem.

The main problem is fatigue. Working a full time job, especially if it is particularly intellectually or physically challenging, coupled with an evening or weekend job may well reduce performance in one or both roles. Ultimately that has to be dealt with as a capability matter. It is the employee’s choice to work two jobs, and if one impacts upon the other the affected company has to look after its interests.

Employers also have to consider the Working Time rules. If the hours of the first job coupled with the hours of the second job causes an employee to work more than 48 hours per week on average the employee will either have to sign an opt out permitting him to do so or reduce his hours. Which company is responsible if the employee becomes tired or ill? The short answer is that they both have a duty to look after the employee’s health and comply with the WT rules.

In tandem with this comes volunteering. Like paid employment, volunteering can help someone develop useful skills for the workplace so that both company and charity benefit, first aiders and event organisers to name just two. But fatigue could be a problem to a committed volunteer. Can unpaid volunteering lead to Working Time problems? If it is truly unpaid then no, as there are no contractual rights to enforce. But if the ‘volunteer’ does receive any pay then the Working Time rules will apply.

MPs don’t have the Working Time problem since they are not employed. Most work about 70 hours per week in politics and often aren’t employed in their second jobs. Fatigue may well be an issue (could that explain the crazy bureaucratic processes underpinning shared parental leave? We shall never know). But hopefully some of them at least will bring useful business understanding into the Commons from their outside workplace activities.

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