“Is it illegal or unethical to work for two competing hotels?”

Question: Dear Mr. Sklover: Is it illegal or unethical to work at the same time in two competitive hotels which are situated in the same town and in the same area of the city? The positions are Director in the first hotel and Sales Manager in the other. Thank you for your answer.

Petr
Prague, Czech Republic

Answer: Dear Petr: As I am sure you know, I am not licensed to practice law in the Czech Republic, so I cannot give you a legal opinion about your local laws. However, I think that the following thoughts might help you make a decision about what to do – or not do – and how to do it:      

1. While I cannot be certain, I am very confident that working simultaneously for two competitors is not illegal in your country. I have assisted employees in many countries on almost all continents, and I have never heard of it being illegal in any country to do what you describe. That leads me to be quite confident it is not illegal where you are, although I cannot be certain of that. 

2. I don’t think working simultaneously for competing hotels is unethical, either, BUT it could be viewed by other people to be unethical. What does “unethical” mean? Well, I guess you might say it means “in violation of fairness or morality.” While I do not view your working in the two hotels at the same time to be “in violation of fairness or morality,” I do believe your two employers may very well view it that way. That is because it does represent a rather clear potential “conflict of interest.” Think of it this way:  Is there anything “unethical” with dating two people at the same time? Not necessarily, but those two people you are simultaneously dating – if they did not know about it – might surely think it was unethical, or worse!  

3. Your working for the two competing hotels at the same time definitely presents the appearance of a “conflict of interest,” which constitutes a grave risk to both of your jobs, as well as your career and reputation. What do we mean by a “conflict of interest?” It is a circumstance which makes you uncertain to which of your two employers you should be most “loyal.” 

Let me try to illustrate that for you: Which hotel would you tell people is a nicer place to stay? Whichever one you don’t recommend might be upset by your answer. Which hotel might you tell someone represents the better value for the price of a room? Whichever one you don’t mention might be upset by your answer. Here is the best example: If one day both hotels tell you that they need you to work because they both have an emergency, which one will you say “Yes” to? Whichever one you don’t say “Yes” to might be upset by your choice. Thus, as illustrated, your two “interests” are in potential “conflict.” 

4. Most employers expect undivided “loyalty” from their employees, and so see “conflicts of interest” not as illegal, and not as unethical, but more as a breach of trust, a kind of bad faith, and cause for firing. Let’s go back for a moment to that example I gave about dating two people at the same time. It is not illegal. It may or may not be unethical. But it sure might make one or both of your date-mates feel like they should no longer trust you, and for that reason decide to break off the relation. That is precisely how your two employers may – and likely would – feel if they find out you are working for a direct competitor. Since every city and every industry is a “small town” when it comes to people learning about what other people are doing, you can almost count on your two employers learning – sooner or later  – of your two simultaneous employments. That would likely pose a problem for you. 

Being fired for an undisclosed conflict of interest is a kind of “cause” for firing, and, for this reason, a grave risk to your jobs, your career and even your reputation in your industry. 

5. The only true way “out” of a conflict of interest is (a) full disclosure and (b) informed consent. The best way to address a conflict of interest is to (a) disclose all facts to both hotels – preferably before you begin the dual employment, and (b) ask both hotels to consent to the dual employment. If both consent, for your peace of mind, and for prudence sake, I strongly suggest you ask both for their consent by way of email or other form of writing, so that you have some “evidence” that it was given after full disclosure. If they both consent, and you receive both expressions of consent in writing, you are in great shape. 

You may wish to obtain a copy of our Model Letter designed for this purpose entitled “Addressing a Conflict of Interest at Work,” that shows you “What to Say and How to Say It”™ in a situation like yours. To obtain a copy, just [click here.]  

6. No matter what you do, Petr, do it carefully, and with a long-term perspective. Like many people, Petr, you may need both jobs to make ends meet, or to take care of a considerable family need. Either way, I strongly suggest you handle this situation carefully, and with your reputation and career in mind. Life is full of risks, large and small, obvious and subtle. As to your career and reputation, this could be a large risk, and damaging for a long time.   

While you may truly believe you are doing nothing wrong – and you may be right about that – others could perceive things differently, and it is their view that may well determine your job and career, not your own. We would all do well to remember this wise observation in all of our business dealings: “While other people judge us by our behavior, we judge ourselves by our intentions. The two are very different things.”   

You have surely taken the right first step: finding out more information. Now, the rest is up to you.   

By the way, Petr, I may soon be traveling to Prague: which of your two hotels do you recommend I stay in? No, no – I am just joking. Thank you for writing in.       

My best to you,
Al Sklover

P.S: Our Model Letters help people stand up for themselves at work. For a friend facing Job Loss, Severance, Resignation, Bully Boss, or Performance Improvement Plan, they are a “Helping Hand Gift for a Friend in Need.” Just [click here] to view our list. 

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© 2013 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.