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Business Unplugged™
This blog features Carol Roth's tough love on business and entrepreneurship, as well as insights from Carol's community of contributors.

How to Moonlight Without Losing Your Job

Written By: Alexandra Levit | No Comments

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 1 in 17 Americans (or about 8 million people) currently work more than one job, and in the next two decades, these numbers are projected to increase.  The Department of Labor reports that while moonlighters come from every demographic group, most are married, Caucasian, and in their 30s and 40s.  Midwestern states have the highest numbers of moonlighters, while southeast states like Florida and Georgia have the lowest.  Nearly all moonlighting has some sort of financial incentive – people either do it to meet expenses, pay off debt, or earn extra money – or they do it so that they can make money while building up a business or pursuing a hobby.

Managing multiple jobs is challenging and exhausting – some moonlighters work up to 80 hours a week.  But when you consider the danger inherent in dropping everything to go after your dream gig, moonlighting can be a good, low-risk compromise.  Since most employers don’t expect that you will devote 100 percent of your waking hours to them, holding down a job that provides a consistent paycheck and health and retirement benefits while you pursue your passion in your free time often makes sense.

Some would-be moonlighters are concerned that starting an independent endeavor while working full-time is against the law.  In the New York Times, Matt Villano reports that if your new business is unrelated to your current job, you are probably safe.  However, if the new enterprise operates in the same industry, you may face a legal issue.  “Employers can sue an employee for starting a business if the employee has taken intellectual property without permission or violated a non-compete agreement.  Generally, however, unless malicious intent has been established, judges will not rule against entrepreneurial spirit,” Craig Annunziata, a partner at Fisher & Phillips, comments in the Times article.  “Judges hate to stifle people trying to better themselves.”

While it may not be illegal, it is definitely unethical for moonlighters to pursue side gigs while on the clock for their day jobs.  Along those lines, please make sure that you fulfill all of the responsibilities that you were hired to do.  If you need to complete tasks for your side gig during the business day, use your lunch hour and either leave the office or use your cell phone in a conference room.  Don’t take advantage of your company’s trust by using company resources like computers, FedEx, or the copy machine for your own venture.  As Carol Roth points out in The Entrepreneur Equation, …companies can make a strong legal claim that if you wrote a business plan using their computers and printed it out with their paper, ink, and all-in-one printers, made phone calls to potential suppliers using their phones and phone service…while they were paying you, they own it.

And if you can help it, keep your moonlighting life to yourself.  Since most employment is at-will (meaning that either party can terminate the arrangement without liability) your boss could fire you if she suspects that you’re losing focus on the job or are putting plans in place to change your career.  Randall Hansen of QuintCareers.com, a career expert I’ve been following since I was researching my first book seven years ago, offers these additional tips for people thinking about moonlighting:

Check your main employer’s policies: Before you look for a second job, find out if your primary company has rules about holding outside employment.

Consider a trial basis: Moonlighting in short doses to accomplish some short-term goals usually works better than working multiple jobs for long stretches.

Find jobs that are geographically close to each other or to your home: Your time will be limited enough without adding a long commute to your second job.

Reduce your load: If you are working multiple jobs, it’s probably time to cut some of those extracurricular activities.

In order to make moonlighting work, you will need to simultaneously and slavishly manage both job schedules.  Keep conflicts to a minimum by using company-provided vacation and personal days; consider enlisting a friend, family member, or even part-time employee to cover for you at your side gig in the event that something unexpected comes up at your day job.

And because moonlighting is undoubtedly a stressful lifestyle, set aside at least a few hours a week to spend with your loved ones.  This will prevent your personal relationships from suffering too much, and will help stave off burnout.

Have you ever moonlighted? Are you currently working a side gig? We would love to hear about your experiences. Please share in the comments below.

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Article written by Alexandra Levit

Alexandra Levit’s goal is to help people find meaningful jobs - quickly and simply - and to succeed beyond measure once they get there. A former nationally syndicated columnist for The Wall Street Journal, Alexandra has authored several books. Want to learn more about how you can protect your career from myths like “do what you love and the money will follow”? Check out her new book Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success (Penguin/Berkley, October 2011).