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The Double-Edged Sword of Remote Work

Balancing Flexibility & Trust in the Modern Workplace while Navigating the Ethical Waters of Double-Dipping

The dawn of flexible working arrangements has revolutionised how organisations function and has given employees unprecedented control over their work-life balance. But what happens when this newfound freedom leads to unexpected and unethical behaviours, such as juggling two jobs without either employer knowing? This article explores the growing trend of "double-dipping" and offers solutions for maintaining trust and integrity in the remote workplace.


The Growing Trend


The widespread adoption of work-from-home (WFH) policies has inadvertently paved the way for a rise in "double-dipping" — employees simultaneously working for two employers without either party's knowledge. While this practice might seem like a win-win for the employee, it raises critical ethical questions and poses potential risks for businesses.


Ethical Considerations


From an ethical standpoint, transparency and trust are at the core of any successful employer-employee relationship. Engaging in two jobs without notifying employers compromises these principles, leading to possible conflicts of interest and diminished loyalty, as well as breaching contracts of employment and company policies and procedures.


The Business Impact


The impact on businesses of this type of behaviour is significant. Here are just some examples:


  • Dishonesty / Loss of Trust: Engaging in secondary employment without disclosure leads to a fundamental breach of trust between employer and employee, not to mention a breach of the employment contract in many cases. This erosion of confidence can have lasting implications for the working relationship, affecting collaboration and overall organisational culture.

  • Productivity Concerns: Dividing attention between two jobs can lead to a decline in focus, quality, and output.

  • Confidentiality Risks: Handling sensitive information for two companies simultaneously creates potential confidentiality breaches.

  • Fraud/Wages Theft: An employee who obtains benefits such as wages and benefits by deception (i.e. lying to the employer about secondary employment and claiming wages for hours worked from two employers for the same period or claiming sick leave from one employer whilst continuing to work for the other employer) is committing Fraud, a criminal offence. This can lead to legal complications for both the employee and the employer.

  • Work Health & Safety: Working two jobs can result in excessive hours to meet the needs of both employers, leading to fatigue or increased stress or anxiety. The pressure to 'juggle' the demands of two jobs or two managers without each being aware can have serious health implications on the employee as they try to maintain their lie without being caught. In addition, from a duty of care perspective, it is challenging for an employer to meet their duty of care obligations if an employee is lying to them about when they are working.

  • Workers Compensation Challenges: If an employee is injured while working for two employers, determining which employer the claim is lodged against can become complex. Lack of awareness about concurrent employment further complicates the matter.

  • Reputation Damage / Loss of Revenue: This practice can harm an organisation's internal and external reputation, resulting in loss of business and revenue and significantly impacting the business and other employees.


A Real-World Example


A case that we have recently become aware of highlights these challenges. A company, let's call them Company A, advertised for a full-time position, and the candidate, let's call them X, applied, informing Company A that their current role with Company B had been made redundant, which is why they were looking for a new role. X was the preferred candidate and was offered a permanent role four days a week (Monday to Thursday).


During the recruitment process, X asked if the role could be worked four days per week instead of five as they wanted more work /life balance, and Company A agreed. X signed a contract of employment with Company A for a permanent role, four days per week (Monday to Thursday), 7.6 hours per day, with those hours to be worked onsite between 8 am and 5.30 pm with the 'occasional' work from home when the nature of the work permitted.


Shortly after commencing their employment with Company A, X began making excuses (family commitments, child care challenges etc.) to work from home., initially a couple of days a week which then became full-time working from home. All without Company A's knowledge and unbeknown to Company A, X's role with Company B had not been made redundant, and X was still working full-time (Monday to Friday) for Company B.


How could X facilitate this? X had been working from home with company B since COVID. Upon accepting the role with Company A, X informed Company B that they had taken a casual role elsewhere to help support their family financially. X signed a statutory declaration stating they worked a maximum of 8 hours per week with Company A after hours and on weekends. Where there was a conflict in terms of X being required to travel for work for one company or attend work sites etc. X would take sick leave from one company to facilitate the onsite work/travel for the other.


When X's deception was discovered, X claimed to have been 'totally transparent' with both employers. X tried to justify their actions by claiming they had 'earnt' the right to work flexibly as they had worked diligently for company A for several years before these events. That company B had 'afforded them the flexibility to work a second job' (Company A didn't know that X was still working full-time for Company B). X then claimed to work 16 hours per day to meet the needs of both employers. Both employers conducted internal investigations leading to X being terminated from both companies for serious misconduct and the matter now being referred to the police due to the allegations of Fraud that are involved.


This example emphasises the question that every employer must ask: "Do you know what their employees are doing when they are working from home?"


Employees should also be aware that engaging in acts like in our case above is serious; not only can they lose their jobs, they could be prosecuted for Fraud.


Employees, Be Aware: You may be committing a Criminal Offence.


Obtaining a Financial Benefit by Deception is unethical and a criminal offence. Prosecuted by the police under various 'Crimes Acts' in the State/Territory where the crime is committed, the seriousness of this offence cannot be overstated. In most States and Territories in Australia, it carries significant penalties, including up to 10 years of imprisonment.


This criminal offence is a type of Fraud committed when a person uses deception to gain a financial advantage for themselves or another. In legal terms, "Obtaining a financial benefit or advantage" includes the opportunity to earn money through deception.


How can employers protect themselves?


As an employer, nurturing trust and integrity within a workforce is crucial while protecting your business from potential abuse of work-from-home/flexible working arrangements. Here are some strategies you can apply to address this challenge:


  1. Promote a Transparent Culture: Encourage openness and dialogue about work arrangements, allowing employees to discuss their needs and concerns freely.

  2. Define Clear Policies: Establish comprehensive remote work policies explicitly addressing secondary employment, ensuring all parties understand the expectations.

  3. Implement Regular Check-Ins: Create a structured system of regular check-ins to ensure employees are engaged, focused, and fulfilling their responsibilities.

  4. Robust Reference Checks: Ensure that applicants provide their current managers as referees. Be clear about the role's requirements during reference checks, particularly regarding the days and hours to be worked.

  5. Monitor Work Patterns: Implement tools and processes to observe unusual work patterns or performance inconsistencies that might hint at secondary employment. (Ensure you have appropriate workplace surveillance policies in place to enable you to do this)

  6. Offer Support and Flexibility: Understand employees' needs and provide flexible options where possible. Supporting work-life balance may reduce the temptation to seek additional employment secretly.

  7. Legal and Contractual Clarity: Include explicit clauses in employment contracts that require employees to disclose secondary employment and understand the legal implications of non-compliance.

  8. Foster a Culture of Ethics: Regularly communicate the company's values and ethical guidelines. Provide training and resources that guide employees in making moral decisions.

  9. Encourage Whistleblowing: Create an anonymous reporting system for employees to report unethical practices without fear of retaliation. Make sure this system is communicated and easily accessible.

  10. Conduct Periodic Audits: Regular internal audits or reviews of employee activities can provide an additional layer of assurance.


Final Thoughts


Flexible working arrangements are here to stay, offering benefits that extend to both employers and employees. However, with this flexibility comes a responsibility to navigate the associated challenges effectively. As leaders in the modern workplace, we must foster a culture of transparency and integrity, ensuring that the trust between employers and employees remains unbroken.


Employees also must be honest and transparent with their employers.


By acknowledging and addressing the complexities of remote work, we can create a supportive environment that empowers individuals while safeguarding the interests of our organisations. In a world that values flexibility and autonomy, employers and employees must act with integrity and transparency. Let's embrace the opportunities of the modern workplace while keeping sight of the values that hold our professional relationships together.

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