‘Moonlighting’ in the tech industry has been a hot topic of debate. However, the debate has gathered steam after the tweet of Rishad Premji, chairman, Wipro. His ideas on moonlighting in the IT and tech services sector have led to working professionals discussing the topic on social media and seeking opinions of their fellow colleagues on the same.
“There is a lot of chatter about people moonlighting in the tech industry. This is cheating — plain and simple,” tweeted Premji sparking off a whole new debate around the issue.
It all started when Swiggy created a buzz by introducing a very progressive moonlighting policy for its employees. The policy allows its employees to take up freelance projects outside Swiggy, and work on such projects either after their designated working hours or during weekends.
If such an external project happens to be in conflict with Swiggy’s line of business, then it would be subject to internal approvals by Swiggy’s management team. With this progressive policy, Swiggy has taken a stand in favour of the practice of moonlighting in India, making it clear that it does not care what its employees do in their free time. The only condition is that it should not impact or affect the productivity of the employees or their commitment to their full-time jobs.
“As long as they are not working on any project with my direct competitors, or their gig project does not put my business confidentiality to risk, I do not mind employees moonlighting at all”
Rajesh Balaji, CHRO, Matrimony.com
“With the moonlighting policy, our goal is to encourage employees to pursue their passion without any constraints due to their full-time employment with us,” said Girish Menon, head- HR, Swiggy, when the policy had been announced.
While talking to ET, Menon also mentioned that this is the future of work and Swiggy has taken a progressive step towards it.
Swiggy’s policy clearly states that the employees are responsible for declaring what gigs or projects they are taking up. If the Company finds anything conflicting with the business, competition or intellectual property of Swiggy, or if the moonlighting employees are uniquely advantaged by being part of Swiggy — due to access to certain information — their action will be considered as breach of the code of conduct, and will be handled by the disciplinary committee at Swiggy.
The debate is quite hot and relevant in today’s time when the gig economy in India is thriving with many professionals working as freelancers.
Is moonlighting legal?
As of now, there is no law in India which prohibits employees from taking up multiple jobs. However, if the employees take up a side hustle, which is in the same line of business they are already working in, then it is considered a confidentiality breach. In the IT services sector, the employment agreement prohibits employees from taking up double employment. There are many instances of the court favouring the employers in cases where the employees have been caught. In fact, as per the Factory Act, double employment is prohibited, but in many states of India, IT companies do not come under the purview of the Act.
However, the HR leaders HRKatha spoke with have a mixed view on the practice of moonlighting.
“From a legal standpoint, moonlighting is very much prohibited by law in India,” says Suchismita Burman, senior HR leader and former CHRO of ITC Infotech.
Burman personally considers the practice of moonlighting unethical. “Companies invest in upskilling their employees and imparting new and in-demand skills. Acquiring such skills from a full-time employer and then using these skills for another company seems unethical to me,” opines Burman.
“Allowing employees to take outside projects can put their mental and physical health at risk because of which their productivity will be impacted at their full time work”
Tuhin Biswas, CHRO, Emami
There is no doubt that IT firms do invest a lot on upskilling their workforces to keep them relevant to the industry.
“I totally agree with what Premji has tweeted,” says Tuhin Biswas, CHRO, Emami.
Is moonlighting sustainable?
For Biswas, having a moonlight policy such as Swiggy’s, does not seem sustainable in the long term. It is a risk to the health of employees, as they will be overworked, involved in multiple projects simultaneously. “At a time when we are talking so much about the physical and mental wellbeing of employees, how can we allow employees to live a stressful life like this?” questions Biswas.
Secondly, Biswas adds that due to less rest, sleep and overwhelming work, there is likelihood of employees experiencing burnout. Their productivity at the full-time job is bound to be affected.
Rajesh Balaji, CHRO, Matrimony.com differs on this point. He has no objection to employees moonlighting. “As long as they are not working on any project with my direct competitors, or their gig project does not put my business confidentiality to risk, I do not mind employees moonlighting at all,” states Balaji.
He further adds that the gig workforce is the future of work. “All sorts of professionals such as data scientists, programmers, coders and more would want to work on freelance projects, and companies will have to accept that reality then,” predicts Balaji.
In one of his social-media posts, Hari TN, senior HR leader and former head – HR at BigBasket shares that the IT services firms in India earn by billing their clients for the time spent by their employees on their accounts.
“Companies invest in upskilling their employees and imparting new and in-demand skills. Acquiring such skills from a full-time employer and then using these skills for another company seems unethical to me”
Suchismita Burman, senior HR leader and former CHRO, ITC Infotech
“These contracts are very difficult to monitor or enforce in true spirit and can be misused by service providers. It is not uncommon for services companies to bill their employees to multiple clients or use part of their time on activities unrelated to their clients’ interests. Because of rampant misuse, the underlying relationship is based on distrust, and clients have gone to extraordinary lengths to create mechanisms that prevent abuse,” writes Hari in his post.
Hari’s post goes on to question that if Wipro is charging its clients for giving them eight hours of its employees, then would it be fair for the Company to decide what the employees do beyond those eight hours of work?
Hari strongly opines in his post, “Only if an employee is allowed to indulge her passion in her free time will she be able to give her best to the company. If you come from a background of distrust where what is being bought and sold is literally the time of your employees, you are unlikely to get this”.
Views on the subject of employees being allowed to moonlight clearly vary.
People who are against the practice have their own reasons, an important one being risking the confidentiality of the business. However, it would certainly be interesting to observe which other companies in India will come forward and follow in the footsteps of Swiggy.