Ask Mr. Happy Work – My Boss Said He’ll Fire Me If I Get a Second Job

Welcome to another edition of “Ask Mr. Happy Work”, where you ask me questions about work, careers, education, life, (or anything really), and I answer them!

Today’s question describes something that isn’t as uncommon as you may think.  Can your company fire you for working a second job or having some other type of outside employment?  What should you do if you need a second job but your company is against it?  Let’s peel back the layers of this tricky situation!

Ask Mr. Happy Work – Volume 2

Ask Mr. Happy Work - My Boss Said He'll Fire Me if I Get a Second Job

Hi Mr. Happy Work, I need your help. I’m not in a good place financially. I have a full-time job but I struggle to make ends meet. I tried to get a raise at my current job but that didn’t work out. It would be awesome to get a better paying job but I don’t have many qualifications or education and jobs are fairly limited in my area.

It’s at the point that I pretty much need to start working a second job if I’m going to keep my head above water. The big problem I’m having is that I told my boss I might get a second job to help pay the bills and he threatened to fire me! He got very angry and said he didn’t want employees distracted by other jobs and only wanted people committed to the company. I can’t believe this! Is he even allowed to do that by law?

I really don’t want to lose this job and my health benefits it provides. However, I can’t keep scraping by much longer. I need to make more money or get a second job.  What do I do?

– Need A Second Job

Hi Need A Second Job,

I’m really sorry to hear you’re in this situation! It’s certainly a rough spot to be in.

Let’s first take a look at the big question regarding the legality of being fired for having a second job. In most cases, it is legal for your boss to fire you for having a second job. This is because the vast majority of employment in America is considered “at-will” which means either you or the employer can end the employment at any time. Unless you had a work contract that specifically outlined the terms of employment and provided protection against being fired or let go, a company can fire you anytime as long as it’s not due to some form of discrimination or violation against other applicable law.

In rare cases, you might be able to prove a wrongful termination via discrimination if working a second job resulted in being treated differently than your colleagues (For example, you get fired for having a second job but other colleagues do not).  However, these cases are tricky, cost all parties involved lots of money and time, and you can be sure the company will bring all the legal power they have to fight against the claim.  If you do feel you have been discriminated against, the best approach is to contact a qualified employment/labor Lawyer to discuss the case with them.

What Does the Employee Handbook Say?

My first step for you would be to review the Employee Handbook. Many companies have built policies around working second jobs or outside employment. Some companies don’t care if you work other jobs as long as they don’t interfere with work responsibilities or scheduling with their company. However, there are companies that are very against employees working other jobs, especially prevalent in positions that revolve around clients, accounts management, or handling of sensitive or confidential data. Companies are worried about conflicts of interest, decreased productivity, or the loss of clients or other confidential information, among various other reasons.

Often times, you may find a policy in the handbook that directly says employees can be terminated for working any outside employment.  I’ve seen it quite frequently in my career.  I would check your handbook to see if they have spelled anything out.  But remember that even if there isn’t a policy written about outside employment, it still is legal for a company to fire you for this reason.

How to Handle the Situation and the Solution

The real question here though is what can you do now. You need a second job but you can’t afford to lose the one you already have.

It was a mistake to tell your boss.  Hindsight is always 20/20 but keep this in mind for the future. I’ve never found it beneficial to share my personal business with bosses or co-workers.  The few times I have it only resulted in messes like the one you’re in. People can be quite cruel sometimes and they will use the words and information you share with them against you. Especially so in the business and work world where gossip, toxicity, and backstabbing can almost feel nonstop at times.

But my solution is a simple one.

Just go find another job and don’t tell a soul at work about it.

Your company has no right to the details of your private life. I would by all means pursue a second job if that is what you need right now. Then, once you had the second job, I wouldn’t tell a single person other than close family members or those you absolutely trust. Especially do not tell anyone at your current job in case someone lets out the secret.

If you get a lot of questions about perhaps why you seem more tired, just say there have been some personal or family challenges. If you need to change your schedule a bit, once again cite some personal challenges. It may be slightly more difficult now since your boss may suspect you’re looking for outside employment, but this will still be quite manageable. Just be mindful of the need to keep things to yourself and not share too much. You should be fine.

Is the Worst Outcome Actually That Bad?

And to be completely honest… your boss sounds like a jerk. Even if someone did find out you were working another job and you were fired for it, it may not be the worst thing in the world. The way your boss has communicated with you is unprofessional and immature, and do you really want to work for a company that fires people who won’t bow down hand and foot for them? You deserve to be able to live life comfortably and if the present moment requires you have two jobs, no one should be able to take that choice away from you.

Yes, it can feel awful to lose a job, but there will always be more jobs out there waiting for you. There are thousands of jobs! You just need to have faith. Losing a job is only a small bump on the road of life. It may be slightly uncomfortable for a moment, but keep positive and a new job will be found soon enough. Who knows, maybe the new job will even be better than you ever could have expected and you wouldn’t have found it if you never got fired in the first place.

Planning for the Future

I’m going to go on a whim here and assume that you probably don’t always want to have to work two jobs. The good thing is that it’s never too late to explore your options for a better and more comfortable future and the best time to start is right now.

What ways can you invest in yourself? (School, certifications, training, etc.)  Are there any opportunities you can see down the road?  What skills or natural strengths do you possess you can leverage in your favor? There are lots of options for growth and advancement out there for anyone.

And sure, these pursuits are very challenging, especially if you have to juggle a full-time job (or two), family, and other adult responsibilities. However, I am a big believer that a few years of hard work are worth decades of improved quality of life. Believe in yourself and what you’re capable of accomplishing and who knows how far you can go!

Wishing you the best of luck in this tricky situation.  Now go out there and get that second job, but remember, it’s just between you and me. 😉

Yours Truly,
– Mr. Happy Work

Do you have questions about work, careers, education, life, or anything else you want to know?  I want to hear from you!  Send your questions in today!  

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Helen Neale
Helen Neale
3 years ago

I know how it feels. I have been through with that situation. But in the end, I found a great job that can give me all the benefits I need.

Diana Tidswell
Diana Tidswell
3 years ago

I never knew this was legal. That’s sad. Maybe you could just do something that’s not technically a job but a micro-business that won’t affect your job.

Amber Dickison
Amber Dickison
3 years ago

I’ve actually had a very similar experience back when I was in college. I had a job, but being paid minimum wage and your boss not giving you enough hours to work caused me to just barely get by or ask family for help. Once I got a second job to help, he stated he was going to fire me if I didn’t quit the other one now.

3 years ago

This was so informative and your blog is a great help for everyone working. Especially for those who have just gotten into the job market and don’t really know what to expect. Thanks for doing these!

Becca Wilson
Becca Wilson
3 years ago

This would be such a frustrating situation. I think that the only real reason that this person even having a second job would come up is if the first job needed them at the same time. Such a tricky spot to be in!

3 years ago

I live in a work at will state. Even having worked for a giant international company, I have never seen anyone be fired for having a second job unless they signed a non-compete. With today’s economy more and more people need a second job. I’d think that was a potential lawsuit waiting to happen.

3 years ago

It’s awful that employers would threaten termination due to having a second job! We need to support ourselves!

Monidipa Dutta
Monidipa Dutta
3 years ago

Wow. I love your initiative to help people with their issues. I guess I should start that too about mental health. I just don’t know how…

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