Tackling the issue of employees working side jobs that compete with your business.

Photo credit: ©istockphoto.com/Andrew Howe.

I recently received a series of emails from a reader of my magazine articles and my blogs for BNP Media regarding an all-too-common employer-employee issue called moonlighting. This is where a tech does side work to bring in extra money while working for you. Only the names are changed to protect the innocent and not so innocent. 

Email No. 1:This reader wrote, “Al, I have noticed a change in the attitude of one of my technicians in the last six months. He's becoming more arrogant, showing me less respect as his boss and popping off at the mouth in front of clients and other staff members.” 

I responded, “He may be a good tech, but it sounds like he feels he has you over a barrel since my guess is he feels there’s no competition for his truck. This emboldens techs and puts owners into a hostage situation. Plus, he may have his own side business, and that means working for you may not be his only means of support. Employers and employees should always strive to treat each other with respect or agree to split up and go their separate ways.”

Email No. 2:He wrote back, “Al, you guessed it. He does have a side business. Just today he borrowed a ladder from the company to do a side job without my permission. Worse than that, he left his vehicle in the way so I had to move it. When I moved it, I found a check on the front seat of the truck. I knew the name on the check looked familiar so I checked my company records. Sure enough my company did work for this person a couple of months ago. The check was made payable to this tech.”

I replied, “Yep, I’m not surprised. I bet if you check your call count it may have been slowly dropping and you might have chalked it up to the economy while he probably was siphoning your hard-earned calls away. He’s probably telling customers to save themselves money and let him come back and do the work on the side.”

Email No. 3:He followed up with, “Al, my questions to you are:

  • Should I call the customer and ask if this tech did any side work for him?

  • Did you ever have to deal with this issue at your company? And if so, how did you handle it?”

My response: “The answer to your first question is you can call but the customer is likely to deny it. If you know him, you might pop over and show him the check if you have a copy of it since it’s tougher to lie face-to-face. You also could tell the customer you have the check in hand and want to know why it’s made out to the tech. Remember, you can’t restrict who the customer uses. You can’t restrict who the tech serves except if it’s in the manuals and he signed off on it. That would be grounds for dismissal.

“The answer to the second question is it did happen at my shop but my hope is that it was infrequently. I made it clear to my guys verbally, in the manuals and every way I could that I understand the temptation to do side work but they couldn’t compete with the company by serving my clients in any capacity. They needed to make themselves available to me when I call since I put the majority of the food on their table.

“If I caught them moving my truck (easier today with GPS) or got wind of this, I confronted them and I counseled the customer that although he saves money, he risks his property and safety when he bypasses us. I didn’t give my techs a second or third warning - if they engaged in that type of work, they were gone.”

Read Part 2 in the next issue.