A collateral duty is a task or tasks carried out by an employee that lie outside of his main role. Although the name might suggest military work, there are often collateral duties in all types of workplace, though only some organizations such as the Department of the Interior use the specific term "collateral duty" to describe such work. Collateral duties often tend to be more general, meaning most staff could carry them out with adequate training and motivation.
The main reason for collateral duties is to cover tasks that need performing, but are not extensive enough to justify full-time dedicated staff. For the employer, the duties allow them to get the tasks done for little or no extra expenditure. For the employee the duties can mean enhanced pay, as well as the opportunity to receive training and pick up additional skills and experience.
There are several types of collateral duty that are common in most types of business that have more than a few staff, whether that be offices, factories or retail. These generally involve health and safety elements, such as ensuring the company complies with the regulations of the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, being responsible for fire drills, or being a first aider.
Collateral duties are a particularly important part of military life, particularly for staff on active duty. Military personnel performing additional duties can reduce the need for non-service staff, thus making the service more efficient, and can overcome the problem of non-service staff being unwilling or unable to work in particular locations. As an example, the Navy allows service staff to carry out collateral duties as diverse as fire marshal and blood donor coordinator.
Some companies allow employees a degree of freedom in performing collateral duties. One of the best known examples is Google, which allows engineers to spend 20 percent of their time working on projects of their own choice, without the requirement to achieve measurable results. This has led to the creation of several key Google services.
A professional writer since 1998 with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism, John Lister ran the press department for the Plain English Campaign until 2005. He then worked as a freelance writer with credits including national newspapers, magazines and online work. He specializes in technology and communications.