Believe it or not, it is common for some military members to accept off-duty employment whether assigned to a stateside base or an overseas tour. Off-duty employment is regulated, and service members are required to observe these regulations regardless of where they take a second job and the nature of that employment.
Off-Duty Employment: Regulated At Four Levels
It’s not as simple as applying for a second job and letting your supervisor know about your new commitment. There are four layers of regulations that may factor into when, how, and what kinds of off-duty employment are permitted.
Just to be clear, what follows is written assuming the reader understands they must ask permission via the chain of command before accepting any off-duty employment. We’ll cover those procedures near the end of the article.
Department of Defense-Level Regulations—The DoD has specific policies in place that address off-duty employment, second jobs for military members, etc. These guidelines can usually be found via .gov official sites.
Command-Level or Theater-Level Regulations—There may be regulations established by the major command or regional command that service members must adhere to when considering a second job. These regulations may be published and available in your unit orderly room or via your First Sergeant, Command Sergeant Major, Senior Chief, etc.
Unit-Level Policies—Individual unit commanders may implement policies that add to those mentioned above. These rules should be published and available at the local level no matter where you might be assigned.
Supervisor/Employee Policies—In the military, your supervisor may require you to request permission to apply for a second job, and in some cases you may not be permitted to have a second job or even apply for education benefits if you have not spent enough time in service yet.
These four layers make the whole off-duty employment issue seem far more complicated than it may actually be, since the four levels start by taking their cues from the federal guidelines and working down.
At the unit level you are likely to be informed of the larger off-duty job policies of the command level 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 off-duty employment may be denied. Not all of them have to do with the suitability of the job. Working in a head shop or “glass water pipe shop,” for example, is not something most service members are likely to be approved to do.
Concerns over security clearances (depending on the job), and a temporary duty schedule that has the unit traveling frequently may also be factors in being denied an off-duty job.
Off-Duty Employment May Be Denied Due To Not Enough Time In Service
You read that correctly. Some new recruits want to apply for side jobs once they get out of basic training and technical training, AIT, or other career field training centers. But they soon learn that their on-the-job training requirements in the earliest days of their new military careers don’t allow for distractions like second jobs.
Some units, commands, or even major commands have policies that cover when it’s appropriate to let a new soldier or sailor apply for off-duty education, second jobs, etc.
These rules usually center around the training requirements which must be met by someone at their very first military base assignment and how long it takes to bring the newcomer on board.
Off-Duty Employment May Be Denied Due To Local Sensitivities
Stateside, you might be surprised to learn that a military member is denied a side job working in a bar, in a high tech facility, or even at a college campus.
But overseas, the rules are a LOT different. In some parts of the world, bars are used as recruiting zones by foreign agents, would-be terrorists, and those with political motivations that include closing U.S. bases overseas.
A base commander would likely put such establishments (the ones deemed to be a high security risk in such cases) off-limits, which effectively ends any employment possibilities at such an establishment.
There are other concerns. In some parts of the world, student protests against American military interests are common.
An American military member trying to get a job on a college campus in such an environment may find that the base commander won’t authorize such employment due to the risks of such protests and what the presence of an American military member working on campus might do to complicate things.
Off-Duty Employment May Be Denied Due To Conflict Of Interest Or The Appearance Of One
Federal regulations state that federal employees such as members of the United States military “cannot endorse a product or company in connection with their military service.” That’s a quote from the Air Force official site, AF.mil and its publication, Ethics 101 – Off-Duty Employment.
But product endorsement isn’t the only kind of conflict of interest. Suppose a military member decides to pursue off-duty work that involves a multi-level marketing program such as Shaklee, Nu Skin, etc.
These programs encourage participants to market to their friends, family, and co-workers. But higher-ranking soldiers, sailors, and airmen are not permitted to solicit to their lower-ranking co-workers in the workplace or off-duty.
The appearance of impropriety in such cases includes the possibility of favoritism (giving better reviews or treatment to subordinates who have done business with the higher-ranking member) or pressure from the senior military member to buy, participate, etc.
The bottom line here is that off-duty employment can’t violate federal rules that keep the supervisor/supervisee relationship from becoming compromised.
Conflicts Of Interest: “One Hand Washes The Other”
Another area of conflict of interest? Getting hired in a side-job that turns into you being asked to be an ambassador of that company to the federal government.
For example, imagine getting hired at Boeing to do part-time database work when your supervisor at the part-time job asks you to “put in a good word” with your base’s contracting department for an upcoming bid.
This is an area that can create huge headaches for all involved, and it may not become an issue until you’ve been working at a side job for a while. But if such a scenario did arise, that would be an indication that the military member needs to terminate such employment for the good of their own military career.
Conflicts Of Interest, Part Two
Some (not all) side job considerations are dependent on whether or not the off-duty employment is too similar to the military member’s duties in uniform. Some commands restrict the number of hours certain personnel can work off-duty.
One good example? Certain Air Force medical personnel are allowed no more than 16 hours of off-duty employment in the medical field.
The Army official site (Army.mil) gives an example from Anniston Army Depot’s guidelines for outside employment:
“Employees cannot accept an outside job that creates a conflict of interest with their position at Anniston Army Depot. In general terms, this means employees may not work for an outside employer on a matter they work on here.”
This is not always the case. Military public affairs specialists have moonlighted as radio announcers, newspaper photographers, or voice talent even when they spend time in uniform doing the same things. In those cases, much depends on the guidance at the unit level or command level.
Still another tricky area for military members looking for a side hustle? The federal rules prohibiting non-official use of government resources including data for non-official business. You cannot use government computers, cell phones, email lists, or other resources to work a side job.
You also cannot perform off-duty employment at the same time you perform your military duties. The federal government, in general. considers your time in uniform on the job as a federal resource and that time is regulated as such where off-duty employment is concerned.
No Double-Dipping Allowed
Federal guidelines prohibit a military member from accepting a second job as a federal employee. This is due to the 24/7 on-call nature of military service, and there IS an exception for those who are on their final leave (terminal leave) before their final out processing date or their estimated time to separation.
Furthermore, military members cannot be paid (above their basic military pay and allowances processed as usual) for performing official business.
That means you cannot accept pay from a third party for doing something you were required to do as part of your military duty. Federal law states that no federal employee can receive “any salary or contribution to or supplementation of salary from any source other than the United States as compensation for services as a government employee.”
Some Pastimes And Hobbies May Be Considered Employment
Some hobbies may require approval from your chain of command, especially if they involve social media, blogging, etc. The bottom line here is that depending on whether or not you are paid or compensated in some form for the activities, and whether said activities have the potential to run contrary to the military member’s duties as a government employee.
No off-duty employment is allowed if it is deemed to conflict with military duty.
How To Apply For Off-Duty Employment
Because there are several branches of military service, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for applying for an off-duty job. But thanks to the chain of command, there’s an easy way to get started. Simply discuss your needs with your immediate supervisor and ask what paperwork is required to start the approval process.
It’s recommended to come to your supervisor without having made any commitments to a side job. If you are trying to beat the clock on an anticipated hire date you may be very disappointed depending on how long it takes your chain of command to act on your request.
Written By: Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News