Playing in a band over the weekend is different from secretly working for competitors, Wipro boss Rishad Premji underlined this week as the soap-to-tech business group said it has fired 300 employees for “moonlighting”. Other tech majors such as IBM, which has a huge presence in India, and the homegrown Infosys have joined the chorus to call moonlighting “an unethical practice”.
“Cheating, plain and simple” is how Mr Premji described it. The company issued a statement too: “Certain employees found to be operating in circumstances that are in direct conflict with Wipro’s interests have been terminated.”
And now a group of IT employees is readying for a fightback.
But this integrity debate isn’t simply about what the company bosses want. Here’s a primer to what the tech industry in India is grappling with:
What does ‘moonlighting’ mean?
Moonlighting is when you take up a secondary job beyond your usual job. Since most “normal” jobs are 9-to-5 in the daytime, the other job would usually be at night, hence the “moon” reference. While people with low salaries would usually take it up for additional income — as a means of sustenance — remote working and projects across time-zones have now made it possible for high-salaried techies to do this too.
Who started the ‘two jobs’ debate?
Food delivery platform Swiggy said last month that it now has an “industry-first” Moonlighting Policy, under which staff can take up external projects “based on internal approvals”.
“Be it volunteering with an NGO, working as a dance instructor, or content creation for social media, Swiggy firmly believes that working on such projects outside of one’s full-time employment can significantly contribute to both professional and personal development of an individual.”
It said the work could be for free or even for money.
But the older majors haven’t taken kindly to the idea.
Who wants none of it?
Wipro’s Rishad Premji said that employees can have conversations around playing in a band or working on a project over the weekend; but sought to separate such cases from secretly working for competitors. “There is no space for someone to work for Wipro and competitor XYZ and they (the other company) would feel exactly the same way if they were to discover the same situation.”
Earlier this month, Infosys shot off a stern mail — titled “no double lives — to employees, saying: “No two timing — no moonlighting!” It cited clauses in the offer letter to drive home the point.
Is ‘conflict of interest’ the final clause?
Employees are mostly quiet as they sign agreements with clauses against “conflict of interest” that can be described by the employer in varied way. Since company-specific unions are mostly absent, these employees lack bargaining power too.
But social media is abuzz with a basic assertion: What one does beyond the contracted “work hours” should be none of anyone’s business.
A former director of Infosys, Mohandas Pai, says it’s not as simple as that.
“Employment is a contract between an employer who pays me for working for them for ‘n’ number of hours a day. Now what I do after that time is my freedom, I can do what I want,” he has said, but added that employees should honour the terms of the contract they sign with the companies, and that it’s “illegal and unethical” if they use their employers’ property for it.
Who’s fighting back?
A group of employees that calls itself the Nascent Information Technology Employees Senate (NITES) has said Wipro’s move is unethical. NITES chief Harpreet Singh Saluja has said clauses in the offer letters and employment contracts deserve legal scrutiny.
“It is disappointing to hear the news that Wipro has fired around 300 employees in the name of Moonlighting. The arbitrary termination of employees is unethical and illegal, and NITES will leave no stone unturned to provide justice to aggrieved employees,” Mr Saluja has said.