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This is a weird situation and a throwaway stack account to protect me. I'm looking for some advice from you all to help organise my thoughts.

The situation:

  • I'm a software engineer that works/worked for a government funded, non-profit engineering company (Company A) for the last 10 years
  • Working conditions at A have been bad for the last couple of years and have led to a negative feedback of No promotions > non-competitive salaries > people leaving > increased workload on remaining staff > no hiring or promotions > ...
  • I stuck around long enough to essentially be "vital" for several company products. Hoorah for being the last one left holding the bucket...
  • I'm personally invested in having some of these projects continue being successful. They're generally a public good.
  • I've become fed up with Company A and took a 1 year contract at Company B for a 50% pay increase. This was about 6 months ago.
  • In order to keep the lights on at Company A until they could find a replacement I've agreed to help out here and there, after hours, until they could get some more staff in place. Generally this is providing experience/knowledge to the junior staff and maybe doing some high level reporting or tech support. Nothing too time intensive but is saving large amounts of effort for the juniors left at A.
  • The work load at A has been steadily dropping off as the juniors are becoming more capable. Some of the projects have also ended.
  • I've been told that they're happy to keep paying me at 100% since they expect me to return to Company A after the contract gig at B ends.

I'm in two minds about this... On the one hand my boss, and her boss, are happy with the situation as long as I don't go advertising it to other people. I've also been underpaid for a good few years so "I'm getting mine" now. Since I'm not really the one in power here I don't think it's legally a problem. On the other hand I don't think I'm really doing enough work to justify getting full pay from A and B. I also don't think I want to return to A after my contract since there's no indication that the work environment has improved at all and B is talking about extending the contract.

I suppose what I'm asking is are there any risks to my professional career that you can see that I haven't identified here? This doesn't seem too far from a consulting gig except that everything is agreed privately rather than in black and white. It would also be quite nice to keep the door open at A just in case any extensions from B don't materialize.

EDIT: Company A has a policy that outside work must be declared. The manager and higher manager are aware that I'm working at 'B'. HR is also aware. Company A has incredibly onerous bureaucratic systems so anything that is a little weird is undoable. That's the main reason that my working at B and still getting paid is a "casual" thing.

Company B is new and doesn't really have any policies for this. I mentioned that I would be doing consulting in the interview and they were happy as long as it was outside work hours. I've been very careful to keep things out of office hours, and have clocked out (and informed B's manager) when there have been emergencies at A that required immediate attention.

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  • 18
    to be clear, the decision makers (those who hired you and supervise you) at both A and B are all well aware of what's happening? You're being discreet, but your concern is only long term when interviewing for some other job perhaps years from now? Mar 28 at 14:30
  • 4
    Do the contracts for either company specify anything about consulting or moonlighting? How is your time divided between the two? What happens if Company A needs you urgently but you have something to do for company B?
    – zmike
    Mar 28 at 14:31
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    "I don't think it's legally a problem" - your contracts at A & B will clarify if this is true. Mar 28 at 15:12
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    I'll answer these good comments in the question above
    – OrangeR
    Mar 28 at 16:09
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    It is a salaried position. It's just they really care about employees. The checking in/out is to ensure that you don't work too long. If I work an extra hour it get's stored in "the bank" I can then take another afternoon off early. There are HR issues if your time banked gets too high. Very nice!
    – OrangeR
    Mar 29 at 6:43

9 Answers 9

103

To me this is one of those situations where you are billing a seemingly excessive amount but it is justified due to your expertise.

There is no ethical issue as all your dealings with Company A have been in the clear. Perhaps they are hoping that once your contract is up things will improve and can pay you a proper salary. Perhaps they are thinking they are over paid at Company B and no other company would pay you that (or that B would extend). Whatever, it is not your job to make them see the truth.

Anyone who has done software that does some good in the world can understand your desire to keep those projects going. Sure we do this for pay, but sometimes the public benefit makes the job very worthwhile.

I do not see any negative risks to your career, and I would treat the part time job at A as a consulting gig to future employers. Saying something like: "it was time for me to move on, but they needed my expertise so they made me a very nice offer to stay on as needed", can only make you look like a valuable employee.

Another thing to consider is that, at A, your manager was unable to provide you with an increase in compensation. However, he could, and is paying you the same to stay on part time.

The one thing you must do is not advertise this to anyone else as A asked. Using a throwaway account was smart on this front.

Congratulations, you have earned this. Keep it going as long as you can.

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    I guess it might be catholic guilt coming through but this is exactly what I was hoping and not hoping to hear. Thanks.
    – OrangeR
    Mar 29 at 7:04
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    @OrangeR: Look up "Imposter Syndrom". If your management at A believes that paying you your previous "full time" salary for your current "part time" workload, yet you feel uncomfortable, then it means they value you more than you value yourself; eg. you feel like an imposter. Mar 29 at 8:20
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    This answer fails to address that @OrangeR is getting that pay because they expect him to return to company A, while Orange doesn't have an intention of doing so. That's not entirely ethical, and also poses a risk to your career (of which this answer says there are none)
    – Matsemann
    Mar 29 at 11:45
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    That's a valid point, @Matsemann, but it's no different than the several companies I've worked for where management spent several months telling us that there was nothing to worry about and that rumors of impending layoffs were nothing more than rumors, only to have massive layoffs hit. It doesn't make it right, by any means, but, unfortunately, it's how business works. It's also no different than an employee keeping up appearances in the office while desperately looking for a new job elsewhere...
    – FreeMan
    Mar 29 at 12:37
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    @Matsemann it's perfectly ethical since OP has never said they are indicating they would be willing to go back to A, full time. OP sounds like they have been very up front and transparent to both companies. Company A pays op so much for just consulting because it's worth it to them. Once the juniors become more capable and OP continues to show no signs of returning I'm sure they will slowly phase him out and let the full timers take over. If OP does choose to return, he should do so at a large pay increase, since A has already shown how much they value them.
    – Aequitas
    Mar 29 at 23:43
22

Good for you for asking the question. In ALL questions of ethics, the wise person assumes everyone will eventually know everything. Let's assume that here.

If Company A is happy with your current work-effort for your current pay, that's on them. Ethically you may want to be sure they are aware of your actual work effort level. I presume you're not billing them by the hour, or if you are that you're not over-stating your hours. (This would be both unethical and criminal.)

Your mentoring work at Company A, bringing junior staff up to speed, is HIGHLY valuable. Don't assume it's not.

As long as none of the questions posed by Kate, zmike, and Laconic Droid (pasted below) raise red flags, you should be golden.

to be clear, the decision makers (those who hired you and supervise you) at both A and B are all well aware of what's happening? You're being discreet, but your concern is only long term when interviewing for some other job perhaps years from now?
– Kate Gregory

Do the contracts for either company specify anything about consulting or moonlighting? How is your time divided between the two? What happens if Company A needs you urgently but you have something to do for company B?
– zmike

I don't think it's legally a problem - your contracts at A & B will clarify if this is true.
– Laconic Droid

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    Good points, B has no issue, their contract+conditions of employment is a one-pager. The contract with A might be an issue as their conditions of employment are several hundred pages, and specify that this kind of thing must be formally declared. I've "informally" declared it and seeing as how everyone permitting this is more senior than me (by several levels) this is probably their problem, not mine.
    – OrangeR
    Mar 29 at 7:10
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    @OrangeR Ethically, I think you're still fine there, as you are trying to do the right thing. Legally, though, just make sure that you have a written record that shows that Company A is aware of the situation and is fine with it. If you have emails from managers that indicate that they know, make a copy for yourself (print them, email them, whatever). Those managers likely won't suffer any real consequences if some VP decides it was a violation, but those emails can prove that people "who should have known better" were on board, and you had a reasonable expectation that it was all above board.
    – Bloodgain
    Mar 30 at 23:35
9

These things don't quite fit..

"to keep paying me at 100% since they expect me to return to Company A after the contract gig at B ends"

"I also don't think I want to return to A after my contract"

It seems like there's an expectation.. 100% pay because they expect you to return, where you fully do not plan on returning except in the outside chance that B doesn't work out.

As to the ethics of raking it in like this.. people pay for what they get. I see no issue when someone writes a check of their own free will for work completed. But when a check is written as an investment and the receiving party has no intention of returning that investment, that feels like fraud? Maybe that's too strong a word because this all feels very casual with A, but it is essentially the definition.

Edit: to be clear, the question I'm responding to is the "are there any risks to my professional career that you can see that I haven't identified here?" as this pertains to your reputation and you didn't identify it. The title question regarding the double salary per se, not so much. (that's fine)

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On the other hand I don't think I'm really doing enough work to justify getting full pay from A and B.

Your situation is out of the ordinary so keep this in mind: it seems like company A is overpaying you for your work because they are. They're paying you your same prior salary and you're doing a fraction of the work. However, from company A's standpoint the actual work is only a small part of the deal. They're essentially paying to keep you on retainer, meaning that they have guaranteed access to you when the need arises. In exchange for their money, they're getting peace of mind and an implicit promise from you that you won't go work for some company that would forbid you from helping company A on the side. That sort of availability is a very valuable thing, and lawyers and consultants can charge a lot of money for it. Don't feel like you're cheating company A out of any money, they're just paying you for a different type of service than you were providing before.

If you get asked about the two overlapping jobs in a future job interview, you can say that you were working a contract job while on a consulting retainer by the other company. Having a less than full time side gig as a contractor isn't that unusual since (depending on your locale) the company doesn't have the same ability to prevent outside work as they would for a direct employee. It might look fishy if you listed five jobs at the same time, but most people wouldn't bat an eye to see two simultaneous jobs, especially when one is only on an "as needed" basis.

The work load at A has been steadily dropping off as the juniors are becoming more capable. Some of the projects have also ended.

There could be a bit of an ethical issue if company A expects you to return and you have not communicated that you have no intention of doing so. Your statement above about the juniors at company A is the easy way to avoid any potential ethical issues. Have a chat with the management at company A and reframe your consulting agreement to end once the juniors are capable of handling things by themselves. That way, it's clear to both sides that you aren't trying to milk the company for as much money as possible and also that you don't intend to run off and leave them without anyone to support their critical projects. You want a nice, clear definition of "done". This consulting agreement will prevent you from getting jobs that don't allow outside employment, so a clear plan to wind down your involvement with company A can be beneficial for all involved.

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  • "That sort of availability is a very valuable thing, and lawyers and consultants can charge a lot of money for it." I heard from a lawyer that's a neighbour to my parents-in-law that he got paid for 3 or so years just to be "on retainer" - after a company got sued and was unable to get a lawyer right now. That was after he won them the case (which he said was easy) Apr 14 at 8:52
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Providing everyone is on the same page, you'll be fine. However, it doesn't seem like everyone sees the situation the same as you.

In order to keep the lights on at Company A until they could find a replacement I've agreed to help out here and there

I've been told that they're happy to keep paying me at 100% since they expect me to return

Company A are not finding a replacement, because they think you will come back. And possibly they can't afford a replacement, because they are still paying your salary. An uncharitable way to look at it is that you are the only person who can support the projects and are extorting them for under paying you for 10 years.

I do not believe this is the case, but in a year or two when you finally cut ties with company A and they still have not replaced you, there is a risk that is how they will see it and how this story will be told to their network. If this does happen, then your professional reputation will take a hit.

You can avoid this by making sure that company A are clear that you are not coming back, and getting a timeline for when you are finally leaving.

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    Good point. I think I should have a good chat with the manager at A about what their and my expectations are.
    – OrangeR
    Mar 29 at 14:25
  • It seems to me that you are not 100% sure you are not going back? You are also not sure that things will work out in company B. So why close that door? Enjoy it while it lasts. You have a right to be indecisive, or to change your mind at a later date. It's business, everybody is looking at their best interest. You don't own A anything. After all, A would stop paying as soon as they find the replacement.
    – blablatros
    Apr 15 at 13:36
2

Just to add a point of comparison to the existing good answers: some time ago I left a company which chose to exercise a non-compete clause.

They wanted to make sure I didn't go to a competitor within some time period, and were willing to pay a salary for that duration to prevent it - even while I had already begun working for another company which they didn't see as a competitor.

If a company can choose to pay a salary for no work at all, just to maintain an active non-compete clause, then a company can certainly choose to pay a salary for the work you described.

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  • That is a nice little benefit!
    – Pete B.
    Mar 29 at 15:15
1

Since everyone is aware of what's going on, there's no ethical issue. The only thing I would be concerned about it is that Company A is not following their own internal policies, and if someone gets in trouble for that, they may try to blame it on you. Probably the most likely consequence of that is them firing you, which doesn't sound like a problem. However, there is a slight chance they will come after you legally for the "extra" wages you were paid, especially if you are fudging time cards to keep their bureaucracy happy.

To ensure you are protected from any fallout from Company A, get something in writing about your agreement, then save a copy of it in a location or on a device they can't mess with. If you can't get anyone to write it down, make a note in a notebook every time you talk to someone about it. Put the name of the person, the date, and what you discussed. Especially record any instructions you're given to go against company policy. That should protect you in a worst case scenario.

You may think you're safe since people above you are instructing you to break the rules, but I've seen managers blatantly lie when someone got in trouble for following their instructions. I've even seen people get fired over it, while the manager didn't see any consequences whatsoever. Make sure they can't deny that you were following their instructions, and you'll be safe from being thrown under the bus.

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It's worth double-checking that the work arrangement doesn't violate any government timekeeping laws

Make sure that any rules imposed by the government on timekeeping at company A are being followed with respect to your continued gig there since the work is funded by the government. E.g. if company A bills the government for hours worked, they may (the country wasn't specified, so there's no way for me to know) it may be a crime if company A bills more hours than actually worked by their staff. So if any timekeeping rules are being violated by your current work arrangement with company A (e.g. they're billing the government for 8 hours a day when you only work 2 hours a day), you don't want to participate in their wrongdoing as it is not only unethical, it could also put you in major legal jeopardy (IANAL). If this turns out to be the case, note that you may also be legally obligated to report the wrongdoing to the government (check any applicable reporting rules for your area) and there may be anonymous reporting mechanisms.

Not at all suggesting this is what's happening, but companies sometimes do shady and downright illegal things, and you don't want to be a part of that. So it's worth checking the rules since company A is government funded, and this can come with tight reporting restrictions.

Otherwise I'd chalk it up to "company A sees you as really valuable".

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Work hard my friend, then at the end of the day relax and sleep well.

The double income you are pulling in now can be invested and set you up financially for a very successful life :)

I was once in a similar situation where my employer paid my apartment rental for me. Saving an extra $1500 dollars a month allowed me to invest my money in an apartment, which I eventually sold to buy the house I am living in today.

As long as you can keep everyone happy at A and B, stop worring about it :)

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