Can You Work Two Jobs Remotely? Can You Be Fired for Working a Second Job?
The pandemic has had a significant impact on the way Americans work. Many of us saw our jobs go away or found ourselves working fewer hours. Many of us also found ourselves working temporarily or permanently from home. For many of us, a second job has become a necessity if we want to pay our bills. For others, the opportunity to work multiple jobs remotely has made the practice easier and more appealing.
What are the legal implications of taking a second job? Can your employer terminate you for doing so? Can you work multiple jobs from the same space in your home?
The Right to Work a Second Job
As a general rule, unless you’ve signed a valid employment contract that prohibits you from taking a second job, there’s no law against working for more than one company. That doesn’t mean, though, that your employer can’t terminate you for moonlighting or participating in a side hustle. How can that be?
As a general rule, in the United States, employment is “at will.” (Government workers are one exception.) That means that either party to an employment relationship can end it, at any time and for any reason, provided that doing so:
- Is not in violation of an enforceable employment agreement; and
- Is not contrary to law or public policy (based on illegal discrimination or in retaliation for doing something you have a legal right to do, such as filing a valid workers’ compensation claim or whistleblowing).
A few states have laws that limit an employer’s right to fire a worker because of off-duty conduct, such as the use of alcohol or drugs. Most states, though, don’t have any such laws on the books.
When Might You Be at Risk of Termination for Working a Second Job?
As a general rule, unless you work a job where you are on call or must be available 24/7, an employer won’t terminate you for working a second job, provided you’re performing up to expectations. There are, however, certain situations where you may be subject to dismissal, even if you’re a star employee:
- If the second job poses a conflict of interest with your current employer—If you go to work for a company that competes with your current employer, or if you set up your own business doing essentially the same thing you’re doing for your employer, it’s likely you’ll either face termination or be asked to cease and desist the competing activities.
- If you use company resources or property for another job—Suppose your employer provides you with a computer or pays for your internet service. If you use that computer or internet service for other gainful employment, you can be subject to termination.
- If the second job leads to diminished productivity or performance on your other job—Even if you still outperform many of your co-workers, your employer may expect or need you to perform at your prior level.
Things to Confirm Before You Take a Second Job
If you’re contemplating finding a side gig to supplement your primary income, here are some things to verify first:
- Did you sign a non-compete agreement, or was one included in your employment contract?—Such agreements often include prohibitions on moonlighting or working for a competitor.
- Does your company have a policy against moonlighting?—If you have an employee policy manual, check to see if moonlighting is banned, or if you must report any outside employment to your manager or human resources.
The Risks Involved in Working Two Jobs Remotely
The two biggest concerns that arise when you work more than one job remotely are:
- The potential for using the property of one employer to complete tasks for another employer; and
- If you are paid hourly, the risk that you’ll spend some time billed to your primary employer working on your side hustle.
If you are intentional about not commingling time and property between employers, you can minimize the risk of termination. However, if your employment is at will (and it probably is unless you have a written employment agreement or are a government worker), your job is never guaranteed.
Protect Your Rights by Working with an Experienced Employment Attorney
Though there are no laws banning employment by more than one company, you can still be terminated for doing so if your employment is at will. Avoiding conflicts of interest, reduced productivity and performance, or the commingling of time or property can minimize the risk of dismissal.