Throughout my government career, I’ve heard a lot of people ask whether federal employees can have a second job. In most cases, federal government executive branch employees can have a second job, if it does not create a conflict of interest. In this post I explain in plain language whether federal employees can have a second job and link to the original source documents. Hopefully this post will help you to understand what the rules are without getting lost in the boiler plate. However, it is important to note that this is a personal blog, and a blog post does not constitute HR or legal advice. If you’re thinking about taking a job that is in a gray area, please consult your agency ethics office.
Update: Several people have left very useful comments and you should check them out. I have tried to combine my experience as a federal employee with ethics policy in writing this post. However, I have only worked in one Agency. Based upon the blog comments, it appears that each Agency might interpret these ethics guidelines differently. For example, I worked with a GS-801 General Engineer who was forced to resign because he started a business making sporting goods equipment. (This seemed very tangentially related to his day job to me.) However, commenters have noted that the work the same job as a government contractor that they do in their day job. Therefore, I urge you to work with your own ethics department if you are considering outside employment.
The default position is yes, federal employees can have a second job
As a federal employee, you are not prohibited from working a second job. However, you cannot “engage in outside employment that conflicts with your official duties”. You can find the legal basis for these regulations in Subpart H of 5 C.F.R. part 2635, Employee Standards of Conduct.
In the remainder of this article, I’ll explain relevant guidelines that the office of ethics uses to examine whether your job “conflicts with your official duties”. This way you can steer clear of any potential problem areas. I will also try to address when you should definitely obtain prior approval.
Broadly speaking, if your second job has nothing to do with your federal job you are okay. For example, if you’re an engineer, you can referee youth hockey games on weekends. Or if you’re a secretary, you can work a second job in retail. Have a pickup truck? There’s plenty of ways to make money with a truck that are probably not a conflict of interest. However you might need to avoid moonlighting within the same profession or with a company you interact with at work.
Strictly prohibited jobs for all federal employees
- As a federal employee, you cannot serve as an expert witness at a trial. Congress explicitly defined this in the statutes so steer clear from any situation where you might have to testify in court. (Note, one of my commenters stated that you may be able to serve as an expert witness in some cases. If you are considering being an expert witness, contact your ethics office ASAP)
- You’re cannot earn money for speaking, writing, or teaching about topics that pertain to your job. If you’re the government expert on Formosan termites, you can’t work as an expert for Terminix.
- You may want to avoid jobs as a fundraiser. Even if you don’t have any control over finances in your job, asking people for money may raise concerns that their donation may result in a kickback from the government.
Conflicts with your official duties
In addition to the strictly prohibited activities, you cannot work a second job if it “conflicts with your official duties”. When I hear the phrase “conflicts with your official duties”, my eyes gloss over. I’ll try to break down some specific examples of what this means. However, you should contact your ethics office first if you’re in doubt.
- You may have a conflict if you’re a contacting officer or review grants. If you award money to a company, then you definitely can’t work for them. Also, you may be prohibited from working from them even after you leave the government. Imagine what the TV news would say if you gave a company a 2 million dollar contact and then took a job as their new vice president of government relations. Even if it’s a relatively benign relationship between the government and the company, it’s best to have the ethics office approve the employment first.
- Even if you don’t give money to companies, you should avoid working for companies that work closely with your office. (i.e. You can’t work a second job for the janitorial contractor who cleans your building– although I totally get the appeal of that arrangement).
Remember, these are just generalities. If there are any potentially suspicious links between your government job and your second job, talk with the ethics office.
When in doubt, email your ethics office!
I’ve worked in government a long time. In my experience, everyone fears the ethics office. I’ve gone through my agency’s process for approval of outside employment multiple times and found the process painless and the ethics officers amazing to work with.
I once had an opportunity to teach a course at a major university. Not only would it have been great for my CV but it was also right after we bought our house, and I could have really used extra money. Additionally, I really wanted to teach this class- the topic was one of my biggest passions.
I filled out the ethics paperwork for the potential teaching assignment. Ultimately, the request was denied because I had published a paper with a professor at the university within the past year. I learned a lot about the ethics process during this time. For example, I found out I could have taught the same subject at the small private college in town.
Over my government career, I’ve known a lot of federal employees with a second job. In my experience, the lower your grade level, the lower the scrutiny on outside employment. For example, professional engineers can’t use their license outside of work, but heavy machinery operators with a CDL can drive a truck on their days off. (Update, please see comments. I work with a lot of Professional Engineers and it is common knowledge within our office that we cannot moonlight as a PE. However, your agency may take a different approach to this outside employment.)
Can federal employees have a second job? In general, yes. But be careful to avoid potential conflicts of interest. This post summarized some of the concerns you should consider before pursuing outside employment. However, if there is any doubt, please contact your agency’s ethics office.