I recently had a series of emails from a reader regarding an all too common employer-employee issue called Moonlighting.

I recently had a series of emails from a reader regarding an all too common employer-employee issue called Moonlighting. This is where a Tech also has their own side business to bring in extra money. So, I wanted to share our conversation with you. Only the names are changed to protect the innocent and not-so-innocent. 

Email #1:

He wrote, “Al, I have a situation that I have encountered with a Technician. I have noticed his attitude has changed in the last 6 months. He’s becoming more and more arrogant, showing me less respect as his boss and popping off at the mouth especially in front of clients and other staff members.”   

I responded: “Unfortunately, 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 is 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. Still he’s not right for treating you that way. I just want you to know it’s not personal but rather to know why he might be doing what he’s doing. Employers and employees should always strive to treat one another with respect or agree to split up and go their separate ways.”

Email #2:

He wrote back, “Al, you guessed it. He does have a side business. As a matter of fact, just today he borrowed a ladder from the company to do a side job without my okay. 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 and 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. This check was made payable to this Tech.”

My reply was: “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 alone while he was probably siphoning your hard earned calls away. He’s probably telling customers to save themselves some money and let him come back and do the work on the side.”

Email #3:

He followed up with, “Al, my questions to you are:
    1. Should I call the customer and ask them if this Tech did any work for them on the side?  

    2.Did you ever have to deal with this issue at your company? And if so, how did you handle it?”
My reply: “The answer to question #1 is you can call but the customer is likely to deny it. If you know them, you might pop over and show them the check if you have a copy of it since it’s tougher to lie face to face, or you can tell them you have the check in hand and wanted to know why it’s made out to the Tech.
Remember, you can’t restrict the customer from who they feel like using. You can’t restrict who the Tech serves except if it’s in the manuals and he signed off on it and then it’s grounds for dismissal.  

The answer to question #2 is it did happen at my shop but my hope was it was infrequently. I made it clear to my guys verbally, in the manuals and everyway else I could that I understand the temptation to do side work, but that 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 they save money they risk their property and safety when they bypass us. And I didn’t give them a 2nd or 3rd warning if everything was handled properly during Orientation and in the Manuals to make this policy clear…they were gone!”  

More on the advice I gave this contractor and what you can do to proactively keep this from happening will be discussed in another column. There’s certainly more to learn from this example.  

Stay tuned!