The current pandemic brought several changes to our work lives and brought about an important, but obvious, realization: we do not all need offices. Over the past year, countless businesses realized their workforce could perform just as efficiently, if not more so, from home. This development led to several changes in one’s quality life. For example, workers had more control over their schedules; they no longer had to deal with the commute to work; and they, for the most part, had more free time. The increased amount of free time, alongside the lessened level of scrutiny that comes with working remotely, has led many to begin considering working a second, third, or even fourth job. The opportunity to work another job remotely and attain a second stream of income is enticing, but what are the potential legal consequences to doing such a thing? This article will seek to answer this question.
If you are venturing into obtaining a second remote job, your very first task should be to review your employment agreement. When reviewing, your first inquiry should focus on the existence of a non-compete agreement. Non-compete agreements are clauses typically found within employment agreements that generally limit who you can work for during employment and after termination (for a set period of time). For example, most non-competes stipulate that an employed individual cannot work for a direct or indirect competitor of the company during employment and for a certain period of time after termination or resignation. The existence of a non-compete agreement could cause you to be liable for breach of your employment contract. In other words, your employer could (and probably will) sue you for breach of contract. If you find yourself under a noncompete agreement, then, before taking on your second job, you want to make certain that the new company you are working for is not engaged in the same business as your current employer and that you could not, even potentially, steal any of their clients.
Next, you want to make certain that in taking your new job, you would not be at risk for misappropriating trade secrets. For example, you should absolutely not use confidential information from your current employer to aid or benefit your new employer. You want to keep the work distinct and separate from each other. This means that you should not mix files and probably not perform both jobs out of the same laptop or device. Trade secret misappropriation is another area that will make you liable to be sued.
If you never signed an employment agreement, then the next item you would want to consider is the employee handbook. Your workplace will almost certainly have one. Your task should be to read through the entire handbook and make certain that taking another job, while employed, would not be against company policy. If there is a policy against taking a second job, then your employer will have good cause to terminate you. This would then make it significantly difficult to receive unemployment benefits, as the employer would more than likely have good cause to terminate you given that your actions were a violation of company policy (good cause for termination is often a legitimate reason for the Texas Workforce Commission to deny one their unemployment benefits).
Lastly, supposing you do not have an employment agreement and that your company does not explicitly forbid working multiple jobs, Texas is still an at-will state, meaning that you can be fired for any given reason that is not related to race, sex, sexual orientation, or any other protected status. Therefore, all things being equal, if you were to take on a second remote job, then your employer would have the discretion to terminate you for taking on the second job. In the absence of an employment agreement, this is more than likely the absolute worst action your employer could take against you. Thus, if you do decide to take on that second job, you must be prepared for the possibility that your current employer may find out and may terminate you.
It is not a crime to be overemployed. So long as you did not sign an employment agreement that binds you to a noncompete clause that applies to your new employer and do not share your company’s confidential information with your new, secondary employer, the company will more than likely not have a basis to pursue legal action against you. The question is whether you can tolerate the constant presence of a looming termination and whether you can truly jeopardize your health insurance and other benefits. That is a question that the law, unfortunately, cannot answer.