Analyzing ‘Quiet quitting’ and ‘Moonlighting’ in light of labor laws in India

Quiet quitting is basically wherein the employee performs the bare minimum of the task specifically assigned and later shrugs off responsibilities beyond that. The concept of great resignation gained momentum in the year 2021, and as the job markets started opening globally, ever since then, the buzz phrase at workplaces is now being replaced with ‘quiet quitting’. ‘Moonlighting’ simply refers to dual or multiple employment.

A 2021 report submitted by Microsoft, called “Next Great Disruption is a Hybrid Word – Are We Ready?, has revealed that almost 54 percent of the Gen Z workers, almost 41 percent of the global workforce, are on the verge of handing in their resignations. This phenomenon of people leaving their jobs at an alarming record pace, also referred to as the Great Resignation, was coined by Mr.Anthony Klotz, a Professor of Management at the University of Texas. He also mentioned that a wave of resignations is to be expected in the upcoming days as people are slowly digesting the lessons of lockdown and re-imagined what normal life ahead of this would look like.

After weeks and months of working from home, with no reason to commute and spending more time with family, many have felt that it is time for a change, though initially, the trend was quite prevalent in the United States, it can now be seen in other developing countries as well, especially India.

While the terms ‘Quiet Quitting’ and ‘Moonlighting’ have gained quite the popularity now, both have been followed as a ‘side hustle’ and ‘checked out’ respectively in the past as well. For example, In the case of professionals like doctors, lawyers, and teachers hold primary jobs along with personal practice, and this has been long accepted. Recently, corporate employees involved in multi-level marketing are also well known.

But is it a problem? If so, how is it a problem? Well, the answer to this depends on the relationship between the two jobs. It amounts to an issue if the second job is related to the first job, as it will involve a significant confidentiality breach. For example, recently in a Bengaluru-based IT company, it was found that one of its employees was illegally employed by more than two of its competitors. Alarmingly, several such cases are being unearthed over the past thirty months and almost all the employees have been terminated. Further, statistical data suggest that only one-third of employees consider themselves as ‘highly engaged’ at work. The lack of engagement among others may be due to job insecurity, lack of job satisfaction, lack of respect, self-esteem or recognition or rewards/remuneration, or poor work-life balance.

Since the pandemic, both quiet quitting and moonlighting have become easy as people find themselves more productive from anywhere and save two to three hours of commute time every day. News reports state that a survey of 400 IT professionals in India revealed that 65 percent are engaged in moonlighting while working from home. Also, 70 percent of those surveyed said that side hustles are the real shot to fame and 69 percent shared that they would want to earn from their hobbies. 

What is exactly Quiet Quitting?

 For many members of the working class, resignation may not be an option, so several youngsters today are resorting to the trend of quiet quitting. The trend simply talks about doing the bare minimum amount of performance expected at work. According to the Deloitte study, “Young people are increasingly seeking flexibility and purpose in their work, and balance and satisfaction in their work, and balance and satisfaction in their lives.” One more concern to be observed is that many are rejecting the live-to-work lifestyle, most people want to continue to work, but they do not want the job to control them.

The concept of ‘Quiet Quitting’ basically means workers perform only the duties prescribed in their job description and shrugs off any responsibilities beyond that. The employees also reject working for longer hours and stick only to the timing necessary to perform their tasks or role.

Quiet quitting found its root in China, where it began trending after an online post went viral on April 2021, wherein an Internet user in China criticized the nation’s mindset of prioritizing work or their jobs over the citizen’s overall well-being. In China, it is commonly known as ‘tang ping’ or lying flat. This trend started to extend to other countries, where it was popularly addressed as quiet quitting.

Why is dual employment appealing?

Various studies in the recent past suggest that a healthy work-life balance is linked to sound mental health, and this trend aims to restore balance where work has eerily crept into one’s time. According to Nilufar Ahmed, Senior Lecturer in Social Sciences, CPsychol, FHEA, University of Bristol, in one of his articles has pointed out that, quiet quitting helps to separate self-worth from work, because, when all you have is work, it is hard not to derive your sense of value from it.

As protection from burnout 

In the year 2019, the World Health Organization recognized burnout as an occupational phenomenon characterized by feelings of depletion, exhaustion, cynicism, mental distance from work, and poor performance. Thus, it can be seen that burnout is a significant risk of overwork and can have long-term physical, emotional, and mental health impacts. Too much work and no attention to one’s self can result in burnout, which can be harmful to both the employee and employer.

Building better work relationships

 The range of productivity tends to be usually higher when employees are happy and content. This can even mitigate against the response of feeling distracted and not wanting to be present at work. Moreover, when employees are happy, they tend to behave less uptight and can easily make friends and foster better relationships at work.

Another impact of the trend of ‘Quiet Quitting’ is that just doing one’s job removes the negative impact of constantly feeling in competition with peers. Many experts believe that instead of getting perturbed over the loss of productivity, employers should instead begin to take advantage of the quiet quitting movement to support the well-being of employees and offer a conducive environment.

 The global perspective

 As a part of the general corporate employment agreements, moonlighting clauses are also being added to employment agreements, violation of these clauses amounts to confidentiality breach and conflict of interest. They could use the Intellectual Property, tools, and other processes from their primary job in the second job, which amounts to a legal and ethical violation. This also props up another ethical question, Whether the task of moonlighting or quiet quitting deny an opportunity for the unemployed or underemployed?

A recent report state that 34 percent of the working population in the US has a ‘side hustle’. Though dual employment is not banned in the United States, many workers hide their second job from their primary employer. A recent Mckinsey report in the United States shows a rise in independent workers from 27 percent in 2016 to 36 percent in 2022. The key reason cited is the autonomy and flexibility of freelancing.

European Union adopted a directive in 2019 that required the European Member states to ensure that an employer can no longer prohibit an employee from working for another employer or themselves outside the agreed working hours. The directive allows the member states to set up conditions under which an employer can continue to place restrictions on an employee having multiple jobs. The Netherlands has also recently implemented rules that would stop employers from banning their employees from taking up second employment or doing voluntary work, intending to make it easier to combine different jobs. 

The Indian Legal System

With the respect to the Indian scenario, Indian companies are in quite a dilemma, IT major Infosys has warned its employees that moonlighting could lead to termination. On the other hand, the online food delivery company Swiggy announced a moonlighting policy allowing its employees to take up other projects. Having considered the regulatory scenario in a few companies, the main question to address is that, ‘are organizations ready to accept side-hustling’?

Well, to adapt to the changing times and work culture, companies must address quiet quitting and moonlighting through a positive work culture that enables the right job fit and assures work-life balance. Companies could provide a career road map and helping individuals cross-skill or even upskill will help motivate workers and improve productivity.

Traditionally, these new trends are considered a breach of trust. However, moving forward, there is a need for a framework for ethical moonlighting with representation from all the stakeholders, labor departments, industrial sectors, and representatives of companies and employees. Moonlighting policies and awareness campaigns should be created. The policy framework must allow flexibility for employees and set clear performance goals while clarifying the aspects of confidentiality. This would certainly be an attempt to foster a healthy environment and a win-win for all concerned.

In certain states, there is no legal restriction. Under the Andhra Pradesh Shops Act, no employee is allowed to work in any establishment. In cases of full-time employees, the employee is generally expected not to take up work for any other employer. The Delhi Shop Act states that no person shall work for the business of an establishment or two or more establishments and in a factory for a period above which the employee may be lawfully employed under the Act. The Bombay Shop Act, in section 65 of the Act provides that no employee shall work in any establishment, nor shall any employer knowingly permit an employee to extend the respective services to another establishment on an off day as per the Act.

Under section 8 of schedule I-B the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Central Rules, 1946 states that a workman cannot by doing dual employment work against the interest of an industrial establishment. The All India Service Rules (Conduct) of 1968 prohibits Government employees from engaging in any trade or business other than the work assigned by the Government. Other such rules such as the Central Government Civil (Conduct) Rules of 1964 also prohibit and restrict the same. Government employees cannot engage in private business without a previous sanction from the government.

The current labor laws need a new outlook concerning the aspects of dual employment. In the current framework, it is unclear how provident funds, gratuity, and employee insurance would be handled in the case of dual employment. The Factories Act, of 1948 prohibits dual employment. But, it is limited to factory workers and does not govern other sectors of employment. If the letter of employment does not forbid dual employment, provided there is no non-compete clause, then an employee can engage in moonlighting. To conclude, it can be said that, India is now only in the process of getting convinced of a 4-day work week, so it can be safe to conclude that the Indian legal system is slowly adapting to the various changes happening across the globe and that these emerging new trends shall also soon find a suitable place in the Indian legislations. Maybe it’s time to think about multiple jobs held by a single person and legalize them and give them a proper structure, One day moonlighting may also be the future – for that, the legal ecosystem needs a transformation.

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