Civilian Employment After the Military: What You Should Know

Some members of the armed forces receive preference for federal jobs. This is called the Veteran's Preference Program. Under this program, two classes of vets can be hired before non-veterans. One is disabled vets, and the other is those who served during specific military campaigns or in times of war.

Leaving Military Service? What Now?

Transitioning from active duty military service to civilian life and employment is exciting. You may need help building a full-time career in the civilian workforce if you're leaving military service. Luckily, the Department of Defense and the Department of Labor have many resources. One is the DoD's mandatory transition assistance program (TAP).

Transition Assistance Program (TAP)

The Transition Assistance Program (TAP) provides training on transitioning into civilian employment. TAP is a program mandated by public law. The Department of Labor, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Veterans Affairs developed TAP.

How Does TAP Help Service Members?

TAP helps with financial planning, resume writing, employment applications, and job hunting. It also helps military members who want to start a small business or get higher education.

Military Branch-Specific Employment Programs

There are also branch-specific armed forces resources:

What About Other Federal Agency Programs?

Besides TAP, there are many other government programs for veterans seeking civilian employment. The federal government promotes many programs to hire vets and military service members. The FedHiresVets program lists all federal agencies with a Veteran Employment Program Office.

Veterans Hiring Preference for Federal Government Jobs

 There are several levels of employment preference, depending on military service experience. A helpful guideline is at DOL's Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS) website, and more help can be found on the VA's website. The Veterans' Preference Advisor explains eligibility and level preference for military personnel.

Other Veteran Hiring Incentives

State and local governments have similar programs. The federal government also encourages private-sector businesses to hire veterans. One example is the Work Opportunity Tax Credit. When hiring former military, civilian employers get more than just tax incentives. Military members are team players with a strong work ethic and leadership skills.

Job Hunting Military Ethics Issues

The Joint Ethics Regulation applies to all DoD employees. The DoD's Standards of Conduct Office (SOCO) guides federal employees on post-government employment. It's a helpful place to start research before job hunting. Specifically, it outlines ethics rules for using Skillbridge, which allows military personnel to begin a civilian job search while still serving. It also tells how to ask a JAG office or a military attorney for a Post Government Employment Review. These referrals can be extremely helpful.

Job Hunting

Service members can begin their civilian job hunt while still on active duty. But they must follow some ethical guidelines:

  • Conflict of interest rules (5 C.F.R. § 2635.604)
  • How and when civilian careers may start
  • Issues like accepting interview expenses from a potential civilian employer

Who Can Service Members Work for After Military Service?

Generally, a service member can get a job with anyone they choose after leaving active duty. Some exceptions exist, like “cooling off" or waiting periods to take specific jobs. These issues come up for vets seeking civilian employment with government contractors. Ethics issues might also come up for vets who worked in the military procurement process.

Working During Terminal Military Leave

Terminal leave is the time military members can take immediately before leaving service. Terminal leave can start as early as 60 days before your last work day. Generally speaking, service members can create their civilian job during this period. There are some exceptions, though.

Terminal Leave and Civilian Job Restrictions

Military officers cannot represent a civilian employer to the Government during terminal leave. This is primarily an issue for military officers working for government contractors. You can't work as a contractor in a government building. You also can't meet with government employees during terminal leave. This rule applies only to officers and not enlisted service members.

Continued Service in the National Guard or Reserves

You might want to serve in the National Guard or Reserves after leaving active duty. This can mean:

  • An extra paycheck,
  • Affordable health insurance,
  • Life insurance,
  • Education benefits, and
  • A retirement plan.

Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act

Being a Reservist or part of the National Guard can mean occasional time away from your civilian job. Federal law bans discrimination based on military service or commitment. This law is the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act (USERRA).

USERRA and Right to Reemployment

National Guard and Reservists sometimes face issues with their civilian jobs, but USERRA is designed to help. Not all civilian employers of military personnel know about the right to reemployment. USERRA lets service members return to their civilian jobs after mobilization on active duty. These rights are not automatic, though. Service members must meet the following USERRA requirements to protect their civilian positions:

  • Provide the employer with advance notice of military service obligation;
  • Active military service cannot exceed five cumulative years with one employer;
  • Return to work for reemployment promptly after military duty; and
  • Not be discharged for certain reasons.

Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve

The Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) is another resource for National Guard and Reservists. It is a DoD office that provides support in civilian work environments. ESGR provides civilian employers with a better understanding of the military experience. ESGR also provides information about federal protections for National Guard and Reservist employees. They also help resolve conflicts between the Service members and their private employers.

Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act

The Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act applies to National Guard and Reservists. It covers them during mobilization and deployment.

Looking for More Information?

If after your period of military service you feel that a civilian employer is not dealing lawfully with you despite your reasonable efforts, and you aren't having any luck through government channels, consider speaking with an attorney well-versed in either military law or employment law. They will understand USERRA, They may be able to assist you with your work-related issues.

Was this helpful?

Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Crimes involving military personnel need an attorney
  • Family law issues are handled differently for military families
  • Lawyers can help with military benefits or administrative issues

The military tries cases through the court martial process. A military law lawyer can help protect your rights during this process.

Find a local attorney