I’m part of an online military forum where recently another member asked about the process for getting approved for off duty employment. She’d been told she needed to get a form signed to start up a small business. Since I went through the same process to start this blog, I thought I’d share my experiences.
Quick note for my civilian readers: active duty military members are not allowed to work a second job, or take on a side hustle, without permission. I’ll explain more below, but that’s the context behind writing this post.
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.
The Coasties appear to have even less information available than the Army and Marines. Whyyyy????
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.
Why Did I Worry About Outside Employment For A Blog?
From the beginning, I knew I wanted to do this blog “right.” I didn’t know where it was going to end up going, and when I first set it up I hadn’t decided whether I was going to try to monetize so I could earn back the money I spent setting it up. But I knew that I’d be spending a lot of hours on it.
Because of that, I wanted to make sure I did everything by the letter of the law. Could I have set up my blog without going through this process? Sure. Would I ever have been found out? Maybe. I’m semi-anonymous, which means some groups of people know who is running this thing but my name isn’t published in association with the blog. And I don’t talk about it at work. I also could have not monetized the blog, and therefore not had to worry about it.
So possibly I could have gotten away with not getting off duty employment approval. But if you know me in real life, you’ve probably realized I’m a stickler for rules. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all about loopholes if I can find them! But if the rule exists and doesn’t seem too onerous, I’ll follow it to the letter. So, I did.
I haven’t written about the full process of setting up my blog, but in order to do it correctly I went to a lot more effort – and a lot more cost – than the average “How To Set Up A Blog” post would have you believe. If that sort of post interests you, let me know in the comments and I’ll put something together!
What I plan to do when I change jobs
My current supervisor is a civilian with no plans to leave his job, and there are no plans for me to change positions for the two more years I’m expected to be in this assignment. So in theory, my off duty employment approval is valid for the next two years.
However, eventually I’m going to change to a new job and thus, a new supervisor. At that point, I’ll need to go through this process again. Hopefully my next supervisor will be as supportive as my current one is! If not, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.
Let’s wrap this up military style, shall we? What did we learn today?
- Check the Ethics Counselor Deskbook and the Joint Ethics Regulation
- Find out your unit’s local procedures
- Get your approval for off duty employment in writing!
- Follow up when the employment, the situation, or your military assignment or supervisor change
One more thing: I am not a lawyer! Make sure you talk to legal if you have any questions!