Can military members hold part-time civilian jobs? The short answer is, yes and no. 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.
What do you need to know about landing and keeping a part-time job while in the United States military? The key to staying out of trouble with your chain of command has a lot to do with communicating with your command support staff, military supervisor, and civilian bosses.
Basics Of Getting A Part-Time Job While In Uniform
The first thing to remember about part-time employment is that under no circumstances can a military member have “first allegiance” to their part-time work. Military duty always comes first and in a tug-of-war between your part-time gig and your military obligations the military will always win. That may come at the expense of your part-time job in the end if circumstances warrant it.
That sounds very obvious, like a total no-brainer to most. But there are some who find themselves in a position where they may be asked to compromise their primary obligation–military service–due to circumstances.
If you find yourself in such a position as a part-time hire at a civilian company, you should assume your military obligation will take precedence. And by that we mean that there are military consequences for not making your work in uniform the number one priority even at the expense of the civilian job.
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.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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