Archive for Military Spouse Employment

Supporting Military Families Should be a Priority

While I take a brief maternity leave, I am feature guest posts like this heartfelt response from Fallon Wharton of Fallonella’s Almost Fairtyale to the discrimination and challenges many military spouses face in the workplace and elsewhere.

The article about Employee Rights and Military Spouses on ArmyWivesLives.com really bothered me, probably because it hits so close to home regarding a military spouse desiring a stable career of their own while support their husbands stable, yet ever unpredictable military career.  Technically, military spouses are not supposed to be discriminated against when it comes to employment because of our spouse’s career, but so often we are. Even if we keep mum regarding our personal life employers are going to notice on our resume that there we have moved, possibly every couple of years, and the very perceptive ones will realize that each move was around a Military Installation. I have no doubt this is frustrating for those families that need and want to bring in two incomes. The Military spouse all ready sacrifices so much of their own life for that of their spouse’s, on top of that we have to worry about being viewed differently in our workplace or potential workplace due to our spouse’s chosen career field to work for our country. The ever sacrificing military spouse shouldn’t feel forced to live in fear of losing our job or the ability to be hired for one soley because our loved one has chosen such an honorable yet challenging career field, none of which defines our experience, education, or skills. If it defines anything, it defines our loyal, strong, and loving character to support another human being in such an ever changing and important career.

The author suggests living by the adage “Loose Lips Sinks Ships,” and therefore suggests not talking about our personal life with our interviewers or coworkers as it could jeopardize getting a job or being promoted with in one. I know that I am naturally social, shy at first, but very open and friendly none the less, and the thought of having to be so guarded about normal everyday things signifies a somewhat lonely life in my eyes. Sharing your life with you coworkers, on any level, builds camaraderie, as well as levels of trust and though this may not be entirely lost on the Military Spouse in the workplace, it certainly isn’t entirely fair that they aren’t able to operate in the same way that others are on a day to day basis. Granted, overtime the Military Spouse’s work will speak for itself and hopefully they can slowly but surely begin sharing aspects of their life they’ve felt they had to keep quiet in order to keep their job, income, and family safe of discrimination. Though, take the woman in the article, maybe it’s best to never let your guard down and instead always keep half of your life hidden. I don’t know the answer, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t see employers’ point of view of not wanting to hire and train someone only to lose them in 2 years. With that said, there is no guarantee of any length of employment with anyone that is hired, not just the military spouse.

First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden visit Sesame Street on Monday, April 18, as part of the White House's "Joining Forces" Initiative and Sesame's military families project, to tape Public Service Announcements asking all Americans to support our military families. © 2011 Sesame Workshop. Photo by Richard Termine.

Our First Lady, Michelle Obama along with Jill Biden have taken notice of our ever sacrificing Military Families and the disconnect between the families within the military and our fellow American families. The Joining Forces Initiative “Aims to educate, challenge, and spark action from all sectors of our society to ensure military families have the support they have earned.” It’s evident that our First Lady has recognized that the families ‘serve’ as well, and she has asked others to help their fellow military families, though my question to all of you out there is, what would help you out the most?

Would it help to just have someone shovel your snowy driveway? Or make a meal a week? Or take your kids for the night? Or, could it just simply be having other women (or men) over for coffee and conversation since you may be in a new place and not live on post? I think if there is a call to American’s from our First Lady to help the families behind those serving, then we need to help them understand what would is actually considered help. Maybe it’s just a simple thank you and acknowledgment of our sacrifices as well, since spouses can often feel overlooked. Either way, I’m extremely curious to hear what would help our fellow military families because though I’m an Army wife, my husband and I only have ourselves and a gorgeous grey chihuahua to look after, so I wouldn’t even begin to understand the complexities, stresses, and day to day strength needed for those of you who have so much more to juggle when the title of Mother that is also attached to military spouse.

This initiative also excites me because bringing about such awareness, and calling on those within our country to take notice of those within the military family could quite possibly aid in the employment issue that many military spouses must deal with, as with the woman in the,  Employee Rights and Military Spouses article. Perhaps, this initiative along with increasing awareness will allow those around us to not easily discriminate and instead look beyond the Army Combat Uniform wearing spouse of ours, or insert your spouse’s branch uniform, and instead view our skills, education, drive, and overall abilities when it comes to getting and/or keeping employment.

I love that Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Biden are using their positions as a platform for such an important cause. Like it or not, there is a disconnect among Military Families and the rest of our society, this isn’t to say it’s because our fellow American’s are bad people, in fact I think they’re great people and are very thankful for our service men and women, but also may not always know what to do as the Military is its own language and may be often misunderstood.

Mrs. Obama mentioned the fact that she has heard more than once that the Spouses of the Military have such a hard time having their own career. I must say, “cheers!” to the recognition for those of us who dream of our own career filled lives. Mrs. Obama has said (excuse the paraphrase) “Our Military Spouses are some of the most well educated and well-rounded individuals we have in our society,” and she is right. All of you military spouses need to remember that we have to stick together, keep each other motivated, and remind each other how very special, unique, strong, intelligent, and beautiful we all are, after all we’re fighting a fight too, just not one that most people see.

We also need to voice what we want or need when it comes to ‘help’ from others. Again, it could be simple or complex, but if we don’t speak now that Mrs. Obama is trying to uplift us then we won’t get what we truly need, and again, it may only be a simple thank you for the hardworkof supporting your spouse. We are afterall, “The force behind the force, and they too are the reason we’ve got the finest military in the world.” Thank you, President Obama.

From one MilSpouse to another, THANK YOU, I know this military wifestyle is often exciting and offers us a lot of different life experiences to check off of our bucket lists. However, it doesn’t come with sacrifice and a lot of strength, so thank you to those before me who have served for many years setting the example that it can be done, and done well.

Much love!

Signing off –

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About the Author:

Fallon Wharton is a proud Army Wife who holds a degree in Mass Communications / Journalism and has her own career aspirations.  She enjoys writing poetry and short stories that draw upon her experiences and she blogs at Fallonella’s Almost Fairtyale.

Employee Rights and Military Spouses

A reader wrote me with a question and I just feel so frustrated for her. Essentially, she inquired about her eligibility for upcoming promotions and was told (via e-mail) that she should clarify whether or not she will be moving to join her husband, who is currently in military training. The Human Resources people got this information about her husband from a co-worker.

I would re-print the maddening e-mail she received here but I am concerned that someone at her office might recognize it.

Worker Mobility versus Employee Loyalty

In this case, she expects to be in the area for at least the next two years.  I really do not think that in today’s world a company can expect more than that.  Even if your spouse is not military, they cannot expect a person will not start a family, move, find a better offer, or change careers for decades anymore.  Given the vast number of layoffs, you also cannot expect that sort of loyalty from a company anymore, either.

In answering her question, there are two things to consider: (1) Her rights; (2) Reality.

Military Spouse Employee Rights

I am not a lawyer and you should not consider this actionable legal advice.

Most states do not specifically grant military spouses protection from employment discrimination.  However, you may not discriminate against someone based on marital status.  An employer making inquiries about your marriage for any purpose is simply inappropriate.  They also cannot ask if you are planning to get pregnant and take maternity leave in the near future.

Some recent decisions have also set a precedent for considering this indirect discrimination against a servicemember.  That would be a more difficult argument to make, in my lay opinion.

Either way, most of the time, this is a “he said / she said” situation but these people actually had the chutzpah to put their idiocy in writing.

Rights versus Reality

The problem with all of this is that most employees generally want to stay at their jobs and progress in their careers.  They do not want to get fired or passed up for promotions and then engage in a lengthy legal battle.

This is where the reality comes in.

My Advice to This Reader

In this case, the cat is already out of the bag and this military spouse has to decide the best way to manage the issue.

My advice was to reassure her office that her “marital status” will not affect her job performance and to clarify that she plans to be in the area for the “foreseeable future” and hopes to build her career with that company.

Chain of Command

If the company were a large, national corporation, I might also recommend investigating corporate policies and possibly taking your concerns up the chain.  However, with a small-to-medium local company, it is likely that would just get you passed over even more and possibly let-go at a later date for either manufactured performance reasons or laid-off due to the economy.

Loose Lips Sink Ships

For those who are just starting at their job or in the military life, I would recommend keeping information about your spouse to yourself.

I know it is lonely when your husband is gone on training or deployment.  I know that you want to share the joy when your husband gets a commendation or passes a difficult exam.  The sad reality is you are probably better off not confiding in your co-workers.  Even if they mean well, they most likely do not understand that casual conversations like this can affect your career.

This may be cynical, and this is not something I would have even considered when I was younger, but seeing things like this happen so many times, I’ve learned that discretion is the better part of covering your own rear.

Even with your best efforts, however, you may find yourself in a position where you are being discriminated against due to your husband’s military status.  In this case, you have to decide whether it is worth burning bridges to pursue the issue.

There’s what is right, and there is what works.  Sometimes you have to sacrifice being right in order to make things work.

What do you think? Am I too cynical? Is a direct discussion about employee rights the way to go?  Or am I not cynical enough?  Should she just start looking for another job since she is unlikely to advance at this company? And should military spouses have more employment rights to protect them? Do you empathize with the businesses who lose employees due to military moves or is it just part of the sacrifice we should all be sharing more equally?

Photo by Miriam Pastor