The ethics of working across multiple contracts: what you need to know.

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The ethics of working across multiple contracts: what you need to know.

Contract work means you often have the benefits of choosing where and when you work. It generally involves working autonomously and in many cases you won’t meet your employer or colleagues face to face.

A great deal of trust is involved with contract work and if you find your time is not full, you may consider taking on additional contracts at the same time.

If you’re thinking of juggling contract roles and having multiple projects at a time, here are some things to keep in mind.

The type of work you're doing

If you have a ‘side gig’ in another industry, for example you are an app creator who takes on the occasional computer repair job in your local area on the weekends, this probably won’t be a problem.

However, if you are an app engineer building applications for two different companies, there may be a conflict of interest. Taking on two contracts at once can cause issues with both employers, especially if they are in similar industries.

The wording of your contract

Some employers will be specific before taking on a contractor and will include a clause about exclusivity in the employment contract. This will prevent the contractor from accepting other roles or working on other projects without at least notifying their employer.

Generally speaking, a contract will specify the contractor cannot work for other employers during the times they are completing work for their employer without disclosing what they are doing. There may also be a ‘non compete’ clause which prevents the contractor accepting work from a rival business.

Before you take on additional work, take a look at your contract. You can also ask the person responsible for managing you; let them know what you have in mind and they can check with human resources to find out if it is ok.

In some cases, it is a matter of having an upfront conversation and figuring out what will work. In others, the answer is a strict ‘No’.

The legal implications of juggling contract roles

Employment contracts are legally binding. In many countries, they reflect a minimum standard which is put in place to protect all parties involved.

Your contract will outline the way you and your employer are expected to behave. If you breach your contract by working for another employer without permission, the following may occur:

  • Your employment may be terminated

  • You may face legal action and be sued for damages.

Time and flexibility

In addition to ethics and the rules around your contract, you do have to think carefully about how you wish to spend your time, and the quality of work you want to put forward.

Sure, you could work two contracts and be at your desk for 80 hours a week (there is even a term for this called ‘overemployment’). If you work remotely and don’t have strict constraints around the time periods when you work, this is entirely possible. However, it’s not sustainable for a few different reasons:

  • As mentioned, it can be ethically and legally questionable to have two jobs and not be upfront about it

  • There are bound to be schedule clashes between your two employers which will make your life stressful

  • Working long hours can leave you feeling tired and susceptible to making mistakes, which may put your reputation at risk.

A recent Business Insider article confirmed managers eventually catch on if someone is ‘double dipping’ due to obvious mistakes and time between emails/responses. However, it also shared how managers are often willing to work with people to find a solution which suits everyone involved.

Want to work two contracts at once? Be upfront and negotiate

If you have reasons for taking on contracts with multiple employers at the same time, the first thing you need to do is thoroughly read your contract.

The next is to have an honest discussion with your employer/s. There may be a solution which suits you both, particularly if you are not at risk of sharing your employer’s intellectual property with a competitor.

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