Can You Have a Part-Time Job in the Military?
There are a variety of issues that govern whether or not you can work a part-time job AND serve your country at the same time.
Some of those have to do with unit-level policy or command approval of your part-time work, and others have to do with the blurring of lines between Guard or Reserve duty and civilian job commitments happening at the same time.
Permission Is Required
In order to take a part-time job while serving full-time as an active duty service member, you will need to ask permission of your chain of command starting with your supervisor. There may be specific command-directed policies of approval for off-duty employment and you will be required to know the rules and follow them to the letter.
Some military members find their command support staff is unwilling to consider off-duty employment for its members due to mission requirements for troops to be on call, to be available for rapid mobilization or deployment, etc.
Others may have no trouble at all getting approved for a part-time job. If you have a job that requires use of a security clearance or active involvement with classified information, certain types of off-duty employment may be restricted. You will need to check with your unit or base chain of command to learn what applies to you.
Off duty employment may or may not be authorized for soldiers, sailors, airmen, or Marines who have disciplinary issues, are on a weight control roster or remedial fitness program.
First-term military members may not be allowed to apply for off-duty employment OR off-duty education until they complete certain professional development courses or programs designed to mentor them through the earliest stages of their military career.
Sometimes The Job Itself Matters
Many military members stationed at home or overseas choose to get part time jobs working on base at a Base Exchange, Commissary, or even an MWR facility. If you meet the unit or command’s requirements for off-duty employment in other areas, these jobs are often easy for your chain of command to approve.
Off-base employment is a different story, but for those applying at known and trusted companies others in your unit may have worked for in the past could also make a difference at the local command level when it comes to approval.
Military broadcasters and public affairs officers sometimes apply for jobs at local radio or television stations. Your chain of command might approve such work as this, but there may be caveats depending on the nature of the job that you will need to share with your boss.
For example, if a military journalist gets a part-time job at a newspaper or an online publication, the civilian boss will need to be informed that the journalist can in no way speak on behalf of the military, the base the journalist is assigned to, or the DoD. These considerations are a big deal under certain circumstances–respect them.
No Moonlighting Within DoD
A military member is not permitted to be paid for another federal job while working as a member of the United States military. There is an exception for those who are retiring or separating from military service on “terminal leave” who accept federal employment and start their new job while on their final military leave.
You also cannot be paid for performing official duties–that means your civilian employer cannot compensate you for work you do on behalf of the federal government.
Conflicts of Interest
Military members are not permitted to accept off-duty employment that conflicts with military duty. Furthermore, even the APPEARANCE of a conflict is grounds to terminate the servicemember’s permission to have such a job. You cannot endorse products or services in the context of your military service–you can’t endorse ANYTHING on behalf of your unit, base, command, branch of service, or the Department of Defense.
Part-Time Jobs As A Member Of The Guard Or Reserve
Considerations for Guard and Reserve members are much different than for active duty troops. One reason for this is the nature of military service–part-time uniformed service doesn’t normally feature the same restrictions of non-military employment but there are some important considerations to remember and ask your chain of command about.
One such consideration? Whether it is permissible to “double dip” when performing active duty service in a Guard/Reserve capacity. In general it is safest to keep your civilian job completely separate from your military service.
Some troops serve on active duty in the National Guard but are stationed close enough to their home address that they can effectively work their civilian job at the same time.
However this puts the service member on uncertain legal footing in terms of what may or may not be permitted when military duty conflicts with the civilian job. Is there legal recourse when a Reservist is placed on active duty and the civilian employer fires the Reservist for not showing up for work assuming all required notifications and other procedures have been followed by the Reservist?
In that case, YES, there IS recourse. But in cases where the military member does not keep duty separate from employment, tries to do BOTH in the same time frame, and winds up having absenteeism from the civilian job and gets fired for that?
Those issues are not necessarily as clear and legal action in the wake of such circumstances may be complicated and harder to resolve.
If You Have A Part-Time Job Offer
Some people have to go out in search of part-time jobs, and these service members should approach the chain of command BEFORE doing so. But others are offered positions, and in such cases it’s best to approach your supervisor and explain the situation–it may be best not to look like you started searching for employment without asking about the process it takes to get approved by your command.
In most cases, you will be asked to fill out paperwork to obtain permission–this paperwork varies depending on the branch of military service and your chain of command.
Reservists and Guardsmen
Another quick note about Reservists and Guardsmen to start us off. I am not a Reservist or Guardsmen, and have never been one. Nor do I ever expect to be one. My experience is 100% based on being an active duty officer who wanted to start a business. I imagine that Reservists and Guardsmen don’t have to go through this process, although maybe you do if you are a full-timer? It does appear you have to inform your commander of your employment to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
If you know more, please put it in the comments! Thanks!
Off Duty Employment
The first thing to know about trying to get approved for off duty employment is that every unit can set up their own requirements. So I’ll talk about the Department of Defense (DOD) requirements, and a little about my own process through the Air Force, but be aware your situation may not match what I write here.
The DOD lays out the basic information for off duty employment in the Outside Activities Section of the Ethics Counselor’s Deskbook. This should be your first stop if you want to work outside the military while staying on active duty.
Generally speaking, your outside employment cannot interfere with your military duties and must not create a security or readiness risk. More on that below.
Now, many of the requirements in the Ethics Counselor’s Deskbook apply to higher ranking individuals than most of us will ever be, so don’t let it scare you off. If you have any questions, just talk to the ethics counselor at the legal office.
The Ethics Counselor’s Deskbook lists a variety of other resources that may be applicable to your situation. Check out that list to see what may apply. For instance, when I speak at public events I have to abide by Air Force Instruction 35-101 (Public Affairs).
Why You Need Permission For Off Duty Employment
Some of you may be thinking “Why do I have to get permission to work during my off duty time?”
Well, there are a few reasons. First, you’ve probably heard the phrase “in the military you are on duty 24/7.” This is true, kind of. While you may not be scheduled to work 24/7, you are certainly liable to be called to work at any time. And if that call comes, you are expected to show up.
Second, your commander needs to make sure your second job isn’t going to impact your safety or the safety of those around you. This means you aren’t likely to be approved for a job that requires you to miss out on sleep. If your off duty employment affects your ability to perform your military duties, that can sometimes have dire consequences. Remember: the mission comes first.
Third, there needs to be an assessment of whether your off duty employment might have any ethical violations. If you are planning to get a job delivering pizzas, this probably isn’t going to come up. But if you are an acquisitions project manager and you want to consult for a major defense contractor, you can see how there might be concerns.
And yes, this applies to home-based and other small businesses as well. If once or twice a year you make a cake for a friend’s kid’s birthday party, you don’t need to worry about this. Or if you occasionally sell stuff you don’t need at a garage sale or on eBay, getting off duty employment approval isn’t necessary. But if you are opening up a side business as a cake decorator or selling $20,000 each month on eBay…yeah, you should probably get approved for off duty employment.
How to get Approved for Off Duty Employment?
If you’ve decided you want to work outside the military, you should start by speaking to your supervisor. They should work with you to decide whether your plan is feasible given your current workload and schedule. You should also discuss what kind of employment you are seeking and whether that works with their expectations.
For instance, are you looking for a job that will have stringent rules about when you show up and leave? Are you planning to sign up for work hours that begin shortly after your regular duty day? If you have to stay late at your military job to finish a task, will your new job be okay with that?
For that reason, opening your own home-based business can be the easiest way to earn money outside your military paycheck. If you control your own schedule for your off duty employment, your supervisor might be more willing to approve it. But, of course, that is a conversation you will have to have with them.
Once your supersivor is on board, you will also need to get your commander to approve of the off duty employment. Depending on your unit’s local rules, you may also need to get the legal office and/or an ethics office to sign off.
What exactly do they need to sign? I’m so glad you asked…
In the Air Force, you will have to fill out the AF Form 3902. You can find that form via e-Publishing here. If that link doesn’t work (it gives me trouble), you can also find it here or typically your local legal office will have it. I couldn’t find a regulation covering off duty employment for the entire Air Force, but if you go to e-Publishing and search for “off-duty” you will find them for several bases and commands.
Medical personnel in the Air Force should check out AFI 44-102 for more information.
The most current information I was able to find for the Navy came from this document. This says your requests for outside employment must be reviewed annually or when the situation changes, so make sure you stay on top of that.
Everything I found for the Army seems to direct you to Army Regulation 600-50, which was last updated in 1988. Is that right?
Oh, Marines. A Google search for your applicable documents and regulations was not successful. I did find this document but I don’t know how current it is. I’d recommend talking to your local legal office and reviewing the DOD Ethics Counselor’s Deskbook.
- Medical Off Duty Employment
Are you in a medical position and looking to work off duty at a medical facility? Guess what? There are specific rules that apply just to you! Above and beyond the normal DOD, service-specific, and local unit rules, there are special rules just for medical personnel. For instance, the Air Force Instruction 44-102 I mentioned above limits off duty employment to 16 hours per week unless you are in official leave status. You can get a waiver to work more than that, though.
Depending on where you work and what off duty employment you are planning to conduct, you may be required to talk to an ethics office. I currently work outside an immediate Air Force chain of command, and was required to submit my paperwork to an attorney/ethics counselor when I submitted my paperwork for this blog. The ethics counselor signed the Judge Advocate Recommendation portion of my AF Form 3902, and filled in some notes on a continuation page.
The gist of the notes was that I was not to use government resources (computers, phones, etc) for blogging purposes nor operate the blog during duty hours. No surprise there, and you should expect the same!
Taxes for Personal Business vs Employment
If you do choose to pursue off duty employment, make sure you are taking taxes into account. This is going to be especially important if you open a small business or serve as an independent contractor instead of receiving W-2 income.
You see, if you work for someone else as an employee, your taxes will be taken out of your paycheck. Business owners and independent contractors have no such luxury! You will need to pay estimated taxes on a quarterly basis if that is what you plan to do. You can learn more about taxes for self-employed individuals on the IRS website.