A top Indian IT chief may be right in saying "moonlighting is cheating"

Weeks after Swiggy gave its employees the leeway, the Wipro CEO has aired his doubts.
Speaking from experience.
Speaking from experience.
Photo: Punit Paranjpe (Reuters)
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Swiggy, one of India’s biggest food-delivery firms, recently gave its vote of confidence to moonlighting, the practice of employees taking second jobs. Two weeks later, one of India’s biggest IT leaders has labelled it “cheating.”

Wipro CEO Rishad Premji’s stance may have risen from experience.

“Mature companies understand the constraints and know the long-term perils of moonlighting,” said N Shivakumar, founder at consultancy ResourceTree Global Services. “Startups are in a haste to do things without thinking of how it could affect their business in the long term.”

Can moonlighting work?

Swiggy defines external projects as those done outside of office hours or during weekends. They don’t clash with the food-delivery firm’s own business. With proper disclosure, it could work, the company said.

In fact, it could even allow employees hone skills while making an extra buck, according to Harish HV, a managing partner at ECube Investment Advisors. With work-from-home and flexible hours, their main jobs need not necessarily suffer, according to him.

“So long as an employee is efficient and able to complete all the tasks required, moonlighting may not be such a bad idea,” said Harish.

However, the corporate world isn’t an ideal place.

Why moonlighting fails

For one, a second paid gig is almost always on shaky legal grounds, experts say.

Enacted in 1948, India’s Factories Act bars double employment. Various states, too, restrict the practice. Institutions not governed by such laws often add moonlighting clauses in job-offer letters.

Besides, it’s difficult to establish how much moonlighting is too much moonlighting. “An hour a day? Eight hours a day?” Ankur Nigam, a former partner at EY, asked.

People clearly don’t draw boundaries. “We’ve seen enough examples of people during work-from-home days who were getting paid from as many as 12 companies at the same time,” said Nigam.

From this also stems a genuine concern about hampered productivity. “There are after-office hours for a reason—take time off, recharge and get back the next day to do what you’ve committed to do and are getting paid to do.”

Companies like Wipro, which deal with massive clientele in India and abroad and handle sensitive information, have another matter to worry about.

Moonlighting employees may “expose confidentiality,” N Shivakumar told Quartz. If people can work anywhere anytime, “there may be no room for compliance,” he said.

For those seeking to avoid complicated moonlighting provisions in job agreements, there’s always the mushrooming gig economy. You don’t want to commit to a company? Sure, turn freelancers.

“Let’s stay objective and work for one company at one time, the good old fashioned way,” Nigam said.