my company won’t let me DJ on the weekends — and refuses to say why — Ask a Manager


A reader writes:

My employer enforces a moonlighting policy whereby employees are required to obtain permission from an HR manager before they can work a second job. The policy does not specify what is permissible and what is not, only that the employer may deny concurrent employment if they deem it to be incompatible with the employee’s duties.

I have recently been asked to DJ regularly at a night club Saturday nights from 9 pm to 3 am. I have DJ’ed throughout college and I even made it my regular gig for a couple of years following graduation. However, life happened so I got a regular salaried job in finance. When the opportunity came to DJ again, I just couldn’t resist.

Being aware of my employer’s moonlighting policy, I immediately asked an HR manager permission to work my weekend gig. A day later, she came back with a negative answer. Naturally, I asked for an explanation. She contended that permission to work concurrent jobs is discretionary and that HR may refuse without any justification. I found her answer to be strange if not contrived. Mind you, my employer is publicly traded corporation with over 50,000 employees nationwide.

My regular duties are from Monday to Friday from 8 am to approximately 6 pm. I sometimes work at home but no more than five hours per week. I am not required to be available on weekends. Travelling is not a job requirement. The owners of the night club that asked me to DJ have a clean record and have been in business for the last 30 years.

What do you think? Does my employer owe me at least an explanation as to why they deem my gig to be incompatible with my duties? Is it even legal for them to deny me an explanation? How should I approach my employer if I chose to pursue further explanations?

That’s ridiculous. Your employer is being asinine.

You’re talking about DJ’ing — a totally different type of work than your regular job — during weekend hours that have no overlap with your regular work.

They have zero moral or logical standing to tell you no. And it’s particularly obnoxious that they’ve flatly refused to give you a reason.

When an employer is interfering with an employee’s out-of-work life in this way, they at least owe you an explanation of where they’re coming from. Their “we don’t need to give you a reason” stance is bizarre; it’s practically designed to piss you off and send you running into the arms of a competitor.

I also wonder if this may have come from a low-level HR person who isn’t skilled enough to realize that “we can do this” doesn’t mean “we should do this” or that there are better ways to deliver unwelcome news. So you might have better luck going over her head, pointing out that the way she responded to you was unnecessarily adversarial.

As for the legality of all this, I talked with employment lawyer Donna Ballman, author of the excellent book Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired, who said:

There’s no federal law against banning moonlighting (i.e., having a second job), and many employers put such a ban in their employment agreements. Working for a competitor is almost always a no-no, even if you don’t have a noncompete agreement. It’s just too risky because the employee will be accused of passing trade secrets, breaching confidentiality, or violating fiduciary duties to the employer. As to non-competing jobs, employers can usually ban those too. Employers will say that they ban them to avoid conflict of interest, to make sure the employee is focusing on their primary job, to prevent workplace accidents due to lack of sleep, to make sure the employee is available to work overtime or different shifts, and to prevent employees from using their resources for another job. However, most employees think they should be able to do what they want in their spare time. Unfortunately, with at-will employment in every state but Montana, employers can fire for any reason or no reason at all, with some exceptions.

I don’t know of any specific state law on moonlighting. However, some states ban firings for off-duty legal activities. California, Colorado, and North Dakota have such laws, so a second job that doesn’t interfere with their primary job is probably protected absent a contract saying otherwise in those states. If the job is with a political party or candidate, many states prohibit firings for political activities, so that would be an exception in many states.

I’ve known employees who were fired for merely registering a corporate name without doing anything to actually start a business, so I’d recommend caution if an employee is even thinking about a second job or starting a side business. When in doubt, ask and get written permission to be safe. Look at the handbook and any employment agreement, specifically regarding conflict of interest or devoting 100% of time to the one job. If you’re like most Americans who can be fired if their boss is in a bad mood, it’s better to be safe and CYA than be sorry.

But she also added:

If enforcement is truly arbitrary, they should see if there is a pattern of treating others differently based upon race, age, sex, national origin or other protected status. If so, there might be a viable discrimination issue.

So there’s your answer on the legal part of this. If you’re wondering how this can be legal (outside the three states Donna mentioned) since this is so obviously not your employer’s business, the way employment law works in the U.S. is that there doesn’t need to be a law specifically allowing employers to do X. As long as no law specifically prohibits X, it’s legal for them to do it (with the usual exceptions around discrimination, etc.).

But I’d like to see you escalate this at your company at least to get an explanation, if nothing else. It’s BS.



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