Off-Duty Employment for Military Members

Updated: December 24, 2022
In this Article

    It is common for service members to accept off-duty employment whether they are assigned to a stateside base or overseas. The military regulates off-duty employment, and service members are required to observe these regulations, regardless of where they take a second job or the nature of that employment.

    Off-Duty Employment: Regulated at Five Levels

    Accepting an off-duty assignment is not as simple as applying for a second job and letting your supervisor know about your new commitment. Five layers of regulations that may factor into when you can take a part-time job and what kinds of off-duty employment you can do.

    You must also get permission from your chain of command before you can accept any off-duty employment offer.

    • Department of Defense-Level Regulations The Department of Defense has specific policies in place that address off-duty employment for service members. According to DOD’s Standards of Conduct Office, “The general rule for outside activities [including a second job] is permissive,” but there can not be a conflict with the service member’s position.
    • Branch-Level Regulations – Each branch of the military has its own procedures you must follow and forms to complete if you want to take on a second job. They may also have their own rules or limitations regarding off-duty employment. Branches also mandate rest periods between shifts for certain military personnel, such as flight crews or medical personnel.
    • Command-Level or Theater-Level Regulations The major command or regional command may establish regulations that service members must adhere to when considering a second job.
    • Unit-Level Policies Individual unit commanders may implement additional policies at their discretion.
    • Supervisor/Employee Policies Active-duty military members may need to request their supervisor’s permission to apply for a second job.

    These five layers make off-duty employment issues seem more complicated than they may be. Your unit should inform you of the command’s off-duty job policies and how any local guidelines factor into the process.

    Why Would a Commander, Section Chief or Supervisor Deny Off-Duty Employment?

    There are many reasons why someone in your chain of command may deny your request for off-duty employment.

    According to Military OneSource, your commander must ensure your part-time work does not:

    • Interfere with military duties
    • Impact your safety or the safety of those in the military community
    • Violate the military’s ethical standards

    Off-Duty Employment May Be Denied Due to Not Enough Time in Service

    Some new recruits want to apply for side jobs as soon as they get out of basic training and technical training, advanced individual training or another career field training center.

    However, junior military members’ on-the-job training requirements may not allow for distractions like second jobs.

    Some units, commands and major commands have policies that cover when it’s appropriate to let a new service member apply for off-duty education or second jobs.

    These rules usually center around the training requirements that service members at their first military base assignments must meet, as well as how long it takes to bring them on board.

    Off-Duty Employment May Be Denied Due to Local Sensitivities

    Many military members stationed at home or overseas choose to get part-time jobs working on base at a Base Exchange, Commissary or a Morale, Welfare and Recreation facility.

    If you meet the unit or command’s requirements for off-duty employment in other areas, they may approve these types of jobs.

    Off-base employment is a different story, but if you apply at known and trusted companies, others in your unit have worked for, getting approval might be easier – especially if you are in the U.S.

    Overseas, the rules may be different. In some parts of the world, for example, base commanders may deem bars and college campuses off-limits as high-security risks. This is because foreign agents, would-be terrorists and others may also visit them.

    Off-Duty Employment May Be Denied Due to a Conflict of Interest or the Appearance of One

    According to the DOD, federal employees, including members of the U.S. military, “are prohibited from taking positions when doing so would create an improper appearance of a conflict of interest with his or her federal employment.”

    Product or service endorsement is one kind of conflict of interest, but not the only one. Suppose a military member pursues off-duty work that involves a multi-level marketing program. These programs encourage participants to market to their friends, family and coworkers.

    According to the DOD, regulations prohibit higher-ranking service members from soliciting lower-ranking personnel, on- or off-duty.

    Conflicts of Interest: Political Work

    The Hatch Act governs civilian government employees’ political activities but does not govern military members.

    Instead, DOD published Directive 1344.10, prohibiting military members from certain kinds of political work, including fundraising, publishing, lobbying, marketing, clerical work or otherwise campaigning for a particular candidate, party or cause.

    Conflicts of Interest: “One Hand Washes the Other”

    “You can not be on both sides of the equation,” according to the DOD. That means you can not act as an ambassador for a company you work with to “put in a good word” for it with your base’s contracting department for an upcoming bid.

    Conflicts of Interest: The Job Itself

    Another consideration may be whether the off-duty employment is too similar to the military member’s duties in uniform.

    According to an article on the Army’s website, the Anniston Army Depot interprets a conflict of interest to mean that “employees may not work for an outside employer on a matter they work on here.”

    This may not always be the case, so you’ll need to ask for guidance at the unit level or at your command level.

    Keep in mind that the federal Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch prohibit the use of government resources, including data, for nonofficial business. You can not use government computers, cell phones, email lists, non-public information or other resources to work a side job.

    You also can not perform off-duty employment at the same time you perform your military duties.

    The federal government considers military members’ time in uniform on the job to be a federal resource, regulated to prevent overlaps with off-duty employment.

    No Double-Dipping Allowed

    Active-duty service members cannot accept a part-time job working for the federal government, according to DOD. This is because of the 24/7 on-call nature of military service.

    Furthermore, military members can not be paid by anyone besides the U.S. Armed Forces for performing their official duties.

    This is not just an ethical question but a criminal provision. Federal law states that no federal employee can receive “compensation for performing official acts or completing their official duties from any source other than their federal government employer,” according to the DOD.

    Some Pastimes and Hobbies May Be Considered Employment

    Some hobbies may require approval from your chain of command, especially if they involve social media, “influencing” or blogging for pay or compensation.

    Additionally, DOD Directive 1344.10 prohibits military members from partisan demonstrations or demonstrations that could become violent. It also prohibits military members from posting, sharing or linking to material from a political party, group or candidate, even while off-duty.

    Your command may ask you to terminate your activities if they run contrary to your work as a military employee of the government, or conflict with your military duty.

    Part-Time Jobs as a Member of the Guard or Reserve

    Considerations for National Guard and reserve service members are different than for active-duty troops due to the part-time nature of their military service.

    But, there are some important considerations to remember and ask your chain of command about.

    Ask your command if you’re allowed to “double dip” when on duty for the Guard or reserve.

    Some National Guard troops who serve on active-duty orders are stationed close enough to their home address that they can effectively work a civilian job simultaneously.

    However, this puts the service member on uncertain legal footing when their military duty conflicts with their civilian job.

    If a reservist misses civilian work due to military obligations and then gets fired, the reservist has legal recourse. However, if the reservist wasn’t keeping their duty separate from their employment (i.e., remaining on the clock instead of taking military leave), legal protections are less clear.

    National Guard and reserve service members can keep things simple by refraining from trying to perform their military and civilian work in the same time frame.


    How to Apply for Off-Duty Employment

    There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for applying for an off-duty job because each military service branch has its own culture and regulations.

    Here are the regulations governing off-duty employment applications in each military service branch.

    Air Force and Space Force: Air Combat Command Instruction 51-201 details the Air Force and Space Force’s particular laws regarding off-duty employment. You’ll need to complete Form AF-3902, Application and Approval for Off-Duty Employment.

    Army: See Army Regulation 600-50, Standards of Conduct for Department of the Army Personnel for off-duty employment information.

    Coast Guard: The Coast Guard outlines its off-duty employment regulations in section 1.E., “Civilian Employment During Off-Duty Hours” of COMDTINST M1700.1, Military Civil and Dependent Affairs.

    Navy and Marine Corps: CNSTCINST 5300.2 covers the rules for off-duty employment of Navy personnel. According to the instruction, sailors and marines need advance written permission from their chain of command before accepting a second job. Discuss your interest in looking for a job with your immediate supervisor before you start.

    Find out what restrictions apply – such as type of work or maximum hour restrictions – and ask what paperwork you’ll need to complete to start the approval process.

    Written by Joe Wallace

    Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News.