Entrepreneurs have been warned to be wary of pursuing other business interests while at work, after a man was sacked for operating multiple companies while on his employer’s time.
RailCorp clerk Ping Han used his work hours to operate a myriad of small businesses including an insulation business, a travel agency, an interpreting service and a migration agency in addition to overseeing several rental properties.
After working for RailCorp for 14 years, Han was sacked when his employer realised the extent of his moonlighting.
Han lost his appeal to the Transport Appeals Board for using his employer’s time and resources to run his stable of small businesses.
A RailCorp investigation found Han breached the company’s code of conduct by failing to declare his secondary employment and using his work email and other company resources to pursue his own interests.
Han pleaded guilty to breaching the code of conduct, which requires employees to declare any secondary employment, but says the sacking was extreme and he did not understand the policy “completely or correctly” because it changed in 2007.
“I tried to declare secondary employment in 2007 but as the form had changed, I did not understand if, or how, I was meant to declare it from 2007 onwards,” Han said in a statement tendered to the tribunal.
The tribunal heard evidence that while Han was “not derelict” in his duties to RailCorp, he was “more frequently engaged in his personal documents” than work-related activity.
Commissioner Peter Connor said it was logical for RailCorp to conclude Han was spending time on work not related to RailCorp.
Connor said it was likely one of Han’s colleagues may have complained, as it may have been perceived that he was “not pulling his weight”.
The tribunal heard Han was counselled by RailCorp for similar behaviour, which was interfering with his work in 2005.
Han allegedly told investigators he was the only breadwinner in his family and the loss of his job would put his family under considerable hardship.
In dismissing the appeal, Connor said Han displayed initiative, but the evidence presented that his initiative seemed to be directed at his personal interests rather than his work with RailCorp.
Peter Strong, executive director of the Council of Small Business of Australia and owner of Smiths Alternative Bookshop, says small business owners should never pursue other business interests on their employer’s watch.
“It’s commonsense – otherwise the same thing will happen to you [that happened to Han]. Get it done in the morning or on the weekend,” Strong says.
Strong says if the business demands more time than that, the owner needs to make an assessment as to where they want the business to go.
“Either give up your job and pursue the business full-time or cut back. If you don’t want to lose the security of your job, you have to either sell the business or make a decision to limit the number of customers you’ve got,” he says.
“The other option is to take someone on [to manage the business on a day-to-day basis] but make sure you’re not managing that person from your work.”
Strong says with regard to business owners on the receiving end, who suspect an employee of moonlighting, they need to maintain open lines of communication.
He says small businesses often employ people on a part-time basis, which means it is highly likely employees will have other jobs or pursue other business interests.
“It depends very much on the type of business in, but one of the things I would say [to employers] is don’t ask how your employees’ other lines of work are going,” he says.
“It can be very damaging for employers to get involved with staff members’ other business interests, so you need to strike a balance between making sure your staff are upfront about their other work activities without getting involved.”