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Frustrated Man

Working two jobs can lead to fatigue and underperformance in both roles

Rejecting Ed Miliband’s proposal recently, MPs have voted to continue to permit themselves to have second jobs. Many hold directorships and consultancies, though the Commons also contains lawyers, a GP, a dentist, a lecturer, farmers and sundry journalists/media workers. Many believe that having these outside workplace activities make them better ministers. Maybe. Considering 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 employed in business roles may have doubts about the MPs’ grasp of how life really is in an SME.

The decision may be disappointing for those who believe being an MP is a job in itself and focus should be exclusively on governmental matters. Others’ opinion may be more in favour. Since political programmes have been known to point criticism at MPs (who are not employees by the way) for lacking real world knowledge and business experience, perhaps it’s not a terrible 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, is it practical for employees to have a second job? For most jobs, there will often be no legal or competitive problem. A carpenter who supplements her income with a bar job at night is hardly a problem to each employer’s security or financial advancement. Anyone holding two different jobs can benefit from learning new skills and experience that could be useful for either organisation. A weekday call centre operator who puts on their sales assistant hat 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 come about 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 approached reasonably. If, when the decision is made, the second job appears to be perfectly reasonable, but at a later stage 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 issue.

The primary consideration is fatigue. Working a full time job, especially if it is particularly intellectually or physically demanding, coupled with an evening or weekend job may well limit 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 added to the hours of the second job means an employee works 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. With which company does the responsibility lie if the employee becomes tired or ill? The succint answer is that they both have a duty to look after the employee’s health and comply with the WT rules.

Volunteering is a similar case. Like a paid role, volunteering can help someone develop useful workplace skills so that both company and charity benefit; first aiders and event organisers would be a couple of examples. But fatigue could sap the energy of 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.