The cost of living crisis is forcing millions of Brits to take up second jobs to help make ends meet.

In fact, research from Royal London puts the figure at 5.2 million – a staggering percentage of the workforce needing to supplement their primary income to cover the cost of rising mortgages, energy bills, food and more.

And whilst this is challenging enough for employees, many are taking on new work , either knowingly or unknowingly, under a working contract which may prohibit them from doing so.

Employment contracts – especially those within ‘knowledge industries’ – can sometimes prohibit employees from taking on second or third jobs, either explicitly, or without first seeking approval from the employer themselves.

Of course, this hasn’t stopped tens of thousands of workers in the past from doing a bit of work on the side to supplement their salaries, especially with the rise of the ‘side hustle’ culture.

But with so many millions of workers now looking for additional income away from their main place of employment, HR departments from organisations large and small across all sectors will now have to ask themselves how to deal with this growing trend.

Challenge employees or keep quiet?

The key question for organisations is whether or not to challenge employees they think, or know, are working second jobs to help supplement their pay.

And there are a few considerations here.

The first, and the one that most employees would raise if challenged, is that the organisation needs to pay them more in order for them to not need to work that second job. With sky-high inflation, employers can’t expect that they can continue paying the same rates and employees to be happy (or able to cope) at seeing the value of their wages decrease as almost all other costs rise.

Download now: 10 practical ways to support your employees through the cost of living crisis

Many organisations have taken strides to help employees, including offering one-off bonuses to lesser-paid workers, or matching pay increases to inflation.

Others, though, including organisations which have exclusivity clauses in their employee contracts, may have offered no wage increases, or smaller sums that don’t match the rising costs that all of us are seeing.

Whichever path the organisation has taken, there are moral, practical and legal considerations to take into account.

A question of morals

First, and as mentioned above, is knowing that workers are struggling and are being financially forced to take up second jobs to help meet rising costs.

For employers who haven’t offered wage increases that match inflation, the moral consideration is whether or not they’re ‘happy’ to let their staff become poorer without helping to mitigate their struggles, such as through a wage increase or offering extra hours within the organisation itself.

For organisations that have already been very generous in recognising the cost of living crisis, they will likely feel they’ve already done their bit to help, and any staff still taking on second or third jobs are in moral (and potentially legal) breach of their employment contract.

A question of practicality

For organisations who can’t afford to pay their staff more, or it’s economically unviable to do so, it could be a more practical option in the current economic environment to turn something of a blind eye to staff taking on second jobs – so long as they’re not with direct competitors, or within the same industry.

This would help ensure employees really struggling to manage their finances on the wages being offered are less likely to resign in search of better paying work elsewhere.

Read more: What is ‘Quiet Quitting’, and how can employers combat this latest trend?

This, though, isn’t an excuse not to try and match wage growth with inflation where possible, and an entire workforce doing 60+ hour weeks across numerous jobs will ultimately end in mass burnouts, poor wellbeing, increased sick days and reduced productivity.

A question of legality

Some exclusivity clauses in employment contracts are enforceable, and others aren’t.

For workers on zero hour contracts or earning below £123 / week, these clauses can’t be enforced and are protected by unfair dismissal conventions.

For higher-earning FTE workers, these clauses can be used as the foundations for a dismissal should the employer choose to go down that route. This also includes secret second jobs, whether the employment contract says they are allowed but only by gaining prior consent, or aren’t allowed at all under any circumstances.

Ultimately, it’s up to each individual employer as to whether or not it wants to enforce the rules within their own contracts, and reasonable consideration needs to be taken for the situations that their staff find themselves in – especially in the current climate.