“…moonlighting as a matter of principle is unacceptable…” (extract from judgment)
Up to a quarter of all middle-class South Africans are reported to “moonlight”, that is to run a part-time side hustle or side business in addition to their full-time jobs. Some, it seems, go one step further and manage to hold down two full-time jobs simultaneously. No doubt the pandemic-accelerated increase in remote working has enabled that trend as much as financial pressures on employees have fuelled it.
But, as the Labour Court has once again confirmed, moonlighting without permission risks instant dismissal.
“Juggling two jobs” leads to dismissal after an anonymous tip off
- A “highly qualified and academic” employee held down two part-time lecturing jobs, one with a university. The university had consented to this arrangement, so all was well at that stage.
- However, she thereafter elected to resign from her second part-time job and to take up full-time employment as a lecturer “in a senior position of trust and responsibility” with the university at an annual salary package of R787,520. Almost immediately after that she took on another full-time job as an accounts director at a data consultancy, this time at an annual salary of R1,100,004. Critically, this time she did so without seeking the university’s authority to do so.
- We will never know whether or not the employee might perhaps have got away with juggling these two full-time jobs for any length of time, because after only a month an anonymous tip-off put an abrupt end to her scheme.
- The university convened a disciplinary hearing and she was dismissed after being found guilty of gross misconduct for taking up a second full-time position without the university’s knowledge or authority, in breach of her duty of good faith to the university and of its “Policy on the Declaration of Interests”.
- She referred the matter to the CCMA (Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration) which held her dismissal to have been both substantively and procedurally fair – which decision she referred to the Labour Court on review.
- Unimpressed with the employee’s defence that she could manage the two positions, that she did not think it would prejudice the university, and that she saw no conflict of interest, the Court agreed that she had been guilty of “extremely serious misconduct” and upheld her dismissal.
- Rubbing salt into her wounds, the Court ordered her to pay the university’s legal costs (unusual in labour law matters).
Moonlighting – a breach of duty and good faith
The Court’s findings apply to all employment contracts, even those without specific moonlighting policies in place, because of the breach of trust inherent in unauthorised moonlighting. To quote the Court in bullet point form –
- “In simple terms, moonlighting as a matter of principle is unacceptable, and a breach of an employee’s fiduciary duties towards the employer.
- It must always be the sole prerogative of an employer to decide whether to allow this to take place, and also on what terms it may be allowed.
- Nothing can be assumed by the employee. That is why it has to be critical that full disclosure be made by the employee to the employer beforehand, so the employer can exercise its prerogative in an informed manner.”
- To make disclosure to an employer after the fact effectively confronts the employer with a fait accompli, and cannot undo the breach of the duty of good faith that has already taken place.”
Is dismissal always appropriate?
To quote the Court again: “It would in my view be difficult for an employer to re employ an employee who has shown no remorse. Acknowledgment of wrongdoing is the first step towards rehabilitation. In the absence of a recommitment to the employer’s workplace values, an employee cannot hope to re-establish the trust which he himself has broken. Where, as in this case, an employee, over and above having committed an act of dishonesty, falsely denies having done so, an employer would, particularly where a high degree of trust is reposed in an employee, be legitimately entitled to say to itself that the risk of continuing to employ the offender is unacceptably great.”
In this case the employee’s consistent denials of wrongdoing left the university, said the Court, with no alternative but to terminate her employment. But clearly dismissal will not automatically be appropriate in all cases, particularly where it is possible to re-establish trust in a case of genuine remorse. Every case will be different and specific legal advice is essential.
Consistency is critical
Employers need to be able to justify any inconsistency in approach to similar misconduct by other employees. In this case the employee’s “consistency challenge” was groundless and rejected, but it will always be a factor in assessing whether or not dismissal is appropriate.
A final note for employees
If you need or want to earn some extra cash on the side, tell your employer and get prior consent (in writing). Or risk dismissal.
And a final note for employers
Follow the principles set out above and think of putting something into your employment contracts to cover all possible “conflict of interest” situations including moonlighting. With the complexity of our labour laws and the downsides of getting it wrong, specific legal advice is essential.
Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.