3 fellows have been sued by their "parent company" for moonlighting – although it seems like there is more than meets the eye (and no, it’s not about transformers!). This caught my eye because moonlighting is quite prevalent in the software industry. While some programmers may hold full-time day jobs, the nature of the low pay (it’s a relative thing) may lead some of them to take on additional "simple" jobs outside office hours. Such jobs usually bring an addition $200 to $1000+ depending on the scope and duration of the job.

Some people have the perception that what they do outside office hours is their own problem, however, not every company thinks so. Some companies even stick their head into whatever part-time studies that some of their employees may be taking and question their necessity for it. The reason being – they are afraid that whatever they are doing outside office hours may take up their time and concentration during work. Moreover, overtime work is a given necessity in most IT jobs. If you don’t work till at least 8pm or 10pm, then you are not working hard enough and you do not deserve that 1/2 month bonus at the end of the year.

Unfortunately, unless you are some world-changing programmer that can code efficiently and effectively, the company usually does not believe that you have spent enough time in office. Sad isn’t it? At some places, it’s even frowned upon if you leave on the dot.

Anyway, upon reading the article in greater depth, it seems to be more complex than just simple moonlighting. However, it does serve as a reminder that your company can and may take legal action against you for moonlighting – to the extent of terminating your employment.

A WELL-KNOWN architectural firm has sued three interior designers for moonlighting.

Ong & Ong Architects argued that the three breached their employment contracts by doing so. It seeks a court order to stop them from using confidential information.

It also wants to know how much they made in profits via their alleged moonlighting.

But the defendants – Ms Rachel Yee, Mr Leslie Seow and Mr Ridzuan Sarbini – countered that they were not employees of Ong & Ong.

Ms Yee and Mr Seow said they were in a profit-sharing business venture with the firm and are counter-claiming about $230,000, which they say is their share of the profits under the joint-venture terms.

Mr Ridzuan argued that he had been seconded to Ong & Ong as part of an agreement.

The case opened in the High Court yesterday. Ong & Ong’s lawyer, Senior Counsel Philip Jeyaretnam, said that its chairman had approached Mr Seow, who was a partner with Ms Yee at a small interior design firm, Six Planes & Partners (SPP), in 2003.

This was part of a plan to acquire small companies and hire specialists so that the firm could provide integrated services, the court heard.

Mr Seow and Ms Yee signed employment letters, were paid fixed salaries and given leave entitlements and benefits, including Central Provident Fund contributions, said Mr Jeyaretnam.

He said Ms Yee and Mr Seow had agreed to stop doing business under the SPP name, but a deal was worked out to allow their firm to continue to exist so it could collect the money it had earned earlier.

Mr Ridzuan, who was with SPP then, was hired by Ong & Ong in March 2004, he said. Mr Jeyaretnam charged that the three provided services on their own and used the firm’s resources for these activities.

The three, represented by Mr Adrian Tan, denied being employees of Ong & Ong. Mr Seow and Ms Yee contended that, under the business venture, they were not prohibited from doing work under SPP.

They claimed the plaintiff had breached an agreement to pay them half the profits from interior design services, and accused it of infringing their copyright by passing off SPP’s works and awards as its own.

Mr Ong, the second son of late president Ong Teng Cheong, who founded the firm in 1972 with his wife Siew May, was the first witness.

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 18th March 2008

Reader's Comments

  1. Career Creature | March 19th, 2008 at 12:09 am

    In my experience, the biggest concern with moonlighting isn’t lack of productivity or encroachment into the work day, it’s direct competition. Using your example of the IT world, some programmers pick up work that is in direct competition with the company they’re working for. Or even possibly using code developed by their day job which is proprietary code belonging to the company — even if the programmer developed it. Typically, he or she did so while “on the clock.”

    Those are types of issues companies object to with regard to moonlighting. They typically don’t mind if the programmer gets a job at a bookstore to better afford Christmas for the kids.

  2. Rotatoo | March 19th, 2008 at 2:11 am

    This case is not so simple. Usually, this arises from money problems. Work done, money cannot be collected from clients, accounts side cannot pay them. Or money collected from clients but accounts side holds back the money.

    Someone got to do some work to put hot meals on the table.

    It is always about the money.

    Most people moonlight for money, when their salaries are not enough to sustain their families or their expenditures.

    When a man cannot earn enough for his family (& children) and takes on other jobs (after his official hours) on the side. Does his first employer going to sue him?

    But using IP of your employer for projects that you moonlight is not the right thing to do. Typically, your programming skills are paid by the employers and as such, the IP of work done in the office belongs to the company. If the moonlighted work is totally different (eg financial vs music store), you got to be kidding if you want to sue the guy for using the for-next loop programming syntax.

    If your employment contract prohibit moonlighting, then it is best not to get yourself into troubles if you are serious about your career in your company.

    A SAP programmer can probably moonlight for web design projects as the web design skills are totally different from the day job. Provided that it does not affect his day job. At the end of the day, it is about personal work ethics and principle.

    But then, there are some gray areas here.

  3. HighwayBlogger | March 19th, 2008 at 2:43 am

    Hmmm… on the point of direct competition – I had a big GLC poach one of my key programmers to bid for the exact same job using the same codes I’ve developed for another similar government system earlier!

    They even floated his CV to say that he worked on this other system on my company! What to do, SMB can’t compete with MNCs/GLCs that way..

  4. Daily SG: 20 Mar 2008 « The Singapore Daily | March 20th, 2008 at 11:20 am

    […] Discourse – Jed Yoong: Singapore’s Languishing Lawyers – Simply Jean: Are you moonlighting? Don’t get caught! – Angry Doctor: Take my rights… please! 2 – Nomed Letters: Taking the heat off the […]

  5. xtrocious | March 20th, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    I guess the main issue here is whether there is conflict of interest or not…

    For example, those interior designers could have siphoned off some business that may otherwise have gone to the company…

    That’s why in most companies, they require employees to declare if they have any sidelines that may result in conflicts of interest…

    And as long as these are declared and are deemed okay, most companies would allow the employees to do so…

  6. Tan Jia Yun | November 18th, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    i would like to ask… what is the
    final decision from the court?? hmmmm~
    sounds interesting~~

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