I'm trying to establish what it would be called when a person works two or more jobs in secret. What is the word for what the person is doing?

EG: John's main employer found out that he is ______ for other companies on his off-time. He is now in serious trouble.

  • If my answer suits your needs, you might consider accepting it...
    – DyingIsFun
    Commented Jan 29, 2017 at 20:00

4 Answers 4


The correct term for this is moonlighting, which means:

Have a second job in addition to one’s regular employment.

It often carries a connotation of secrecy. The second job is done under metaphorical moonlight. Cambridge captures this connotation:

paid work that you do in addition to your normal job, especially without telling your employer.

It fits perfectly into your example context:

"John's employer found out that he is moonlighting for other companies. Now he's in serious trouble."

Here is the etymology according to Etymonline.com:

moonlight (v.)

"hold a second job, especially at night," 1957 (implied in moonlighting), from moonlighter (1954), from the notion of working by the light of the moon; see moonlight (n.). Related: Moonlighting. Earlier the word had been used to mean "commit crimes at night" (1882).

  • 2
    Though not all companies have a problem with you moonlighting - especially if you're using your own equipment. Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 19:06
  • A lot of big companies don't like moonlighting, as the person may same the work for XXX then do a bad job.
    – Ian
    Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 19:11
  • 4
    @WayneWerner: Especially if you're moonlighting as a musician when your day job is (say) as an auto mechanic.
    – TMN
    Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 15:31
  • This is also where the term "Moonshine" comes from (referring to liquor made illegally, usually at night by the light of the moon).
    – Wes Sayeed
    Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 19:43
  • 1
    "under metaphorical moonlight" This also implies "under the cover of darkness."
    – jpmc26
    Commented Aug 19, 2016 at 17:56

I think the moonlighting answer is correct, but in the interest of throwing another word into the mix: you could say that the person is freelancing:

working for different companies at different times rather than being permanently employed by one company.

"a freelance journalist"

synonyms: self-employed, independent, contract

"John's main employer found out that he is freelancing for other companies during his off-time. He is now in serious trouble."

  • 11
    No, 'freelancing' says nothing about having a main job as well, whereas 'moonlighting' explicitly does.
    – smci
    Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 22:20
  • @smci Like I said in my post, I agree that moonlighting is correct. But freelancing could also fit the sentence, depending on the context. Figured I'd throw it into the mix. Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 22:22
  • 11
    Freelancing is too specific. Freelancers are hired out for individual projects; they don't have a set schedule and salary/wage like an employee. The original question didn't reference the details of the second job, and a freelancer might not necessarily have a "main" job. Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 22:22
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    It might not fit the question exactly, but it does fit the asker's example exactly.
    – talrnu
    Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 0:16
  • 2
    My first thought was "moonlighting" but this one got my upvote because I perceive it as more contemporary.
    – TecBrat
    Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 16:20

Sometimes this secret second job goes beyond mere work hours.

It is not unusual for people working with expensive (but moveable) equipment to be approached by other employees to work for them.

For example, the maintenance crew that cleans and waxes floors may be asked by another employee to do the same at the employee's home (or other business), using the company equipment and supplies. This covert use of the company equipment is "conversion," I think, but not "theft."

One of my friends asked a worker in a window repair shop to come to her home and replace some of her windows (but he refused.) She was interested in hiring his expertise -- not in having him steal glass.

One of my friends is a nurse, and she was hired from the hospital she works at to give (on a private basis) short-term care to a sick person in his home.

Another friend of mine approached the guardian of an elderly person she was working for as a Home Health Aid and suggested that they hire her separately from the company she worked for, saving them money and giving her some benefit or other (which I forget right now.)

Floor cleaners, window washers, repair experts, painters ... workers like that are the people frequently solicited because of their expertise or for the use of company equipment or supplies.

Most often this kind of moonlighting is paid for in cash, and the IRS has no knowledge of it. It's one of the main contributors, so I understand, to the "underground economy."


IMHO, moonlighting doesn't necessarily imply not telling the primary employer (even if authorities think so). Perhaps that is because the Millennial generation does so much more part-time and gig work.

Also available in some contexts is double-dipping, although this is used more for persons collecting (often legally) a pension from one job—perhaps military, law enforcement, or fire-fighting as these tend to have remarkably young retirement ages—while working a second. I also saw it for a professor who, secretly, taught Monday-Wednesday at one university, then hopped an airplane to teach Thursday-Friday at another. He was dismissed from both. And that isn't so far from moonlighting except split by day instead of hour.

  • An example of double-dipping is when someone takes a retirement pension from the military and then, instead of going into actual retirement, they take a job as a police officer and collect both a police salary and their military retirement. This is sometimes frowned upon because pensions are intended to support persons in retirement, not provide extra income to working people. In some cases this is legal to do. Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 15:33
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    moonlighting does imply not telling your primary employer. otherwise it would just be working two jobs.
    – mendota
    Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 20:35
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    The term "moonlighting" does have a secretive connotation to it, even though it doesn't strictly mean that. Something that's secretive doesn't necessarily mean the activity is improper either. But double-dipping definitely implies that the activity is illicit -- either getting paid twice for the same gig, or getting paid for something you did on someone else's time. When people refer to a legitimate activity as double-dipping, they do so jokingly, as in "I can't believe they're letting me do this" kind of way.
    – Wes Sayeed
    Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 21:51
  • There is legal double-dipping, e.g. getting a military pension and working a job, and there is illegal double-dipping - charging two employers for the same time.
    – MikeP
    Commented Aug 20, 2016 at 15:51
  • @MikeP it might be illegal, but it's incredibly common.
    – barbecue
    Commented Aug 20, 2016 at 17:24

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