Return to work can alleviate moonlighting problems in IT industry: experts

The issue of moonlighting by tech professionals has sparked a new debate, polarizing opinions and raising thorny legal issues, although many believe the gradual return of staff to offices is likely to allay concerns.

Moonlighting refers to employees taking side gigs to work on more than one job at a time.

With the contentious issue now in the spotlight, some industry watchers expect employers to consider additional safeguards to protect proprietary information and operating models, especially when employees are working remotely. Companies, analysts say, could also toughen exclusivity clauses in employment contracts.

That said, employers may feel somewhat reassured as tech workers return and office cubicles begin to get occupied more regularly.

While the practice of moonlighting emerged as a big talking point after Wipro Chairman Rishad Premji flagged the issue as “cheating”, the industry’s view at this subject is rather divided.

Tech Mahindra’s CEO, CP Gurnani, recently tweeted that it was necessary to continue to evolve with the times and added, “I welcome the disruptions in our ways of working.”

IT industry veteran and former director of Infosys, Mohandas Pai told PTI that low entry-level pay in the tech industry has contributed to moonlighting. During the pandemic, Pai said, there has been an increase in concert opportunities as “everything has gone digital”.

“If you don’t pay people well they say I want to make more money and here is the easy way to make good money because the technology is available…I get paid very well in dollars, I can make more. .. and so it’s attractive,” he observed.

Pai argues that entry-level salaries in the software industry haven’t seen much improvement over the past 10 years and that professionals are, in fact, “underpaid” for the first 3-4 years. of their career.

“The gig economy has opened up, and there are many gig platforms around the world where you can sign up and work for anyone in the world. And they will pay for jobs,” said he explained.

Pai believes that while employees should not engage in outside work during company time, or take advantage of their employers’ intellectual property, assets, or resources for other purposes, individuals’ free time belongs to them.

“Outside of these hours (working hours), what you do is your problem,” he claimed.

Pai estimates that 6-8% of people are currently engaged in undeclared work, compared to 1-2% previously.

Tech workers agree that moonlighting gained ground after the onset of COVID-19 sparked “working from home”.

The shift to remote working at night has done away with long commutes, bringing relatively smoother work schedules. It has also given new opportunities to juggle smaller side projects in free time for those willing enough to take them on.

An employee working for a leading technology company said that while the practice is not widespread, instances of moonlighting are not unheard of in IT circles. Work schedules, at the start of the pandemic, were not uniform and lean periods offered high bandwidth.

Before COVID, physical presence in the office also acted as a mental firewall, another IT professional said on condition of anonymity, adding that when the pandemic hit, many gigs, from website development to application creation, were up for grabs.

Being short-lived, these one-time projects were also seen by some as quick ways to supplement their income. Since they did not involve a full-time commitment, workers who opted for these side jobs did not see this as a direct conflict of interest.

The nascent Senate of Information Technology Employees (NITES), a Pune-based trade union, says extra self-employment work done by an individual in their spare time using their personal resources is “justified”.

“If the letter of employment mentions working 9 to 12 hours a day, and in the event that in this time slot the person does not work for the company or gives this time to another organization, it can be qualified as a violation.

“However, after office hours, what the individual does is his own prerogative,” observed Harpreet Singh Saluja, president of NITES.

PV Ramana Murthy, Head of Employment and Labor Law, Economic Laws Practice (ELP), believes that contract clarity and full transparency will reduce disputes and also reduce labor costs, allowing flexibility both for the employer and the employees.

“As of now, there is no clarity in employment contracts and no prohibitions under Indian labor law (except under the Factories Act, where dual employment is prohibited for workers). moonlighting is in the gray area,” according to Murthy.

Vaibhav Bhardwaj, partner at Induslaw, says as most organizations return to normal and require employees to work out of the office, it would be difficult for staff to work in the moonlight.

Several employers are considering more protective safeguards around proprietary information, policies and operating models, particularly in remote work cases, said Pooja Ramchandani, Partner, Employment Law, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas and Co.

“It’s not just IT companies, across all industries, employment contracts include exclusivity clauses, conflict of interest clauses, and obligations to serve only one employer during the employment period. employment. Moonlighting violates these provisions,” Ramchandani added.

(Only the title and image of this report may have been edited by Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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