They say life is a soap opera and if you’ve watched Coronation Street recently, their latest storyline featuring Audrey Roberts, long term owner of the Street’s hair salon and her employee Maria Connor has some interesting employment issues which are worth considering in the real world.
In brief, Maria, a long standing employee at the hair salon, had the opportunity of doing a client’s hair outside of the main salon hours which she took and was therefore effectively ‘moonlighting’ whilst employed by Audrey. Audrey didn’t take too kindly to this and upon finding out, promptly marched over to Maria’s and fired her on the spot. Anyone spot any arising issues with this scenario?
Firstly, in the modern world with costs of living ever increasing, it’s not uncommon for individuals now to have a secondary income to subsidise their main job or sometimes commonly referred to as ‘moonlighting’ or having a ‘side hustle’.
Whilst this isn’t illegal and many employers may not have a specific moonlighting policy in place, there is a legal concept which applies to all employees called ‘duty of loyalty’. In other words this requires them to act in the best interest of their employer during their period of employment.
In the case of Maria and Audrey, the issue is over whether Maria has acted outside of this implied duty of loyalty or whether she may be viewed to be poaching clients for her own benefit.
Maria has worked with Audrey for a long time and they have a lot of trust in their relationship. So naturally when Audrey found out about Maria’s actions she was angry at what she had done. However, her response in the heat of the moment was unlawful given Maria’s tenure with the business. What she should in fact have done is look to investigate what had happened and potentially take disciplinary action.
It is fairly common for employers ask employees when they join to declare if they have a second job. This is usually to see if there’s any conflict of interest but also because there can be a knock on effect on someone’s ability to perform to the required standard in their primary job if they are working outside of their contracted hours and may be tired or become unreliable. However, in practice a lot of employees may take on a second job during the course of employment and never declare this to their employer, not necessarily because of anything underhand, but usually because they either don’t think to or because they feel that it doesn’t affect their main job.
Finally there is also the issue of who the client belongs to. In salons, hair stylists tend to ‘rent’ a chair from the salon so in this case, who introduced the client to the salon and who typically did the customer go to. If Audrey, then this may also explain why she reacted in the way that she did.
So what can we learn from this scenario?
Check your contract of employment to see whether you currently specify anything about moonlighting/secondary employment in there and if so, what expectations you have about employees declaring these i.e. what are your rules if there is a potential conflict of interest?
If you have/are looking to add wording to your contract of employment regarding moonlighting/secondary employment, then you will need to review your other policies so that if there is a breach or conflict of interest, it is clear what action may be taken.
If a situation arises, take a step back and assess what has happened before deciding on how best to deal with it. Knee jerk reactions and on the spot firing isn’t the answer and may land you in hot water! If there is no conflict of interest, a different conversation with your employee may be more appropriate highlighting any legitimate concerns.
It will be interesting to see how this storyline turns out on TV, most likely a storm in a salon teacup and Maria will be back where she belongs, at Audrey's, before long.
If you're concerned about this as an issue for your business though, do get in touch.
Please note our blog posts contain general information and are intended as guidance only and should not be taken as an authoritative or current interpretation of the law. Please ensure that you obtain advice tailored to your individual situation before taking action. These posts apply to the UK only.