Know the Law: Unemployment Compensation

A military move is stressful in many ways and the loss of income when the civilian spouse is forced to quit his or her job shouldn’t add to the financial burden. That’s why the majority of states have passed laws approving unemployment compensation for Military Spouses. Normally, employees aren’t eligible for compensation if they voluntarily leave their job, but state legislators have recognized that Military Spouses aren’t resigning voluntarily; they are quitting to accompanying their Service Member to a new state.

What is Unemployment Compensation?

Unemployment compensation provides weekly income to workers who can’t find jobs. Each state has different requirements that must be met in order to receive unemployment compensation, such as minimum hours worked for the employer, the reason for leaving employment, geographical distance between employer and your new location, and if you are actively pursuing other employment opportunities from your new location.

How to Apply for Unemployment Benefits

1. First, know your rights. Research if you currently live in a state that allows the civilian spouse of a transferred Service Member to receive unemployment benefits. Eligibility is based on the rules within the state you left, not your new state of residence. As of August 2012, 45 states and the District of Columbia permit Military Spouses to claim unemployment due to a permanent change of station or PCS. Please note that in Virginia, home to the Pentagon, Naval Station Norfolk, Fort Myers, and Marine Corps Air Base Quantico, Military Spouses are ineligible.

2. Document, document, document.  When quitting your job, be sure to notify your current employer in writing that the reason for your resignation is a military relocation. Always keep a copy of this letter. Most states allow you to resign or quit 30 days before the report date listed on your spouse’s orders, so be careful about quitting too early if you plan to file for unemployment. If you are forced to move on shorter notice, document this situation to support your unemployment claim in your new state.

3. File and follow-up. File for interstate unemployment benefits in your new state’s unemployment insurance office as soon as possible to ensure you don’t miss any deadlines. An interstate claim allows you to receive unemployment compensation from your previous state while meeting the job searching requirements from your new state. Always attach a copy of your spouse’s military orders to your unemployment application, even if the office doesn’t initially request them and list your spouse’s military relocation as the reason you quit your job on all forms. You also may need to provide an official written letter from your spouse’s chain of command as proof of the transfer.

After filing for unemployment and being granted wages, your residency state will require you to register with a local workforce center. You need to show evidence that you are actively seeking employment. In some states, workers are required to attend resume or interviewing classes and even obtain career counseling.

Freeloader Stigma

I first heard about unemployment compensation for Military Spouses from a friend and Air Force spouse in Okinawa, Japan.  Prior to that, I never considered filing for unemployment because I mistakenly assumed that it was only for workers who were laid off. As a Navy newlywed and a recent college graduate, I thought my former employer would be penalized, if I filed. This is false. Generally, the unemployment compensation a Military Spouse receives comes from the state’s general unemployment fund, not the employers’ account. I also thought that I didn’t qualify because I choose to relocate with my husband and that my friends would think I’m a freeloader or lazy if I cashed unemployment checks. With three military moves in seven years, I have completely changed my opinion on this issue. Now I encourage my friends to apply for the benefits and lobby for law changes in states where Military Spouses are ineligible for unemployment.

Here’s the bottom line: Always file for unemployment compensation when you are relocating. If you are denied compensation, appeal the decision and be prepared to explain your situation at a hearing.  You have a right to this weekly income. Just because your Service Member volunteered for the military doesn’t mean that you voluntarily quit your job.

Why A Mentor Is Invaluable For Your Sanity And Your Career

“Have you ever considered wearing an apron every morning while you get the children ready?” A simple question posed to me by a former Military Spouse. A very simple idea, but no, I A Mentor is invaluable to a Military Spouse pursuing a careerhad never considered it. I thought aprons were for cooking.

My insight into the practical uses of the apron at all times of day came from a remarkable lady. A Retired Military Spouse, she successfully built a career in a field similar to mine while simultaneously raising three children, relocating all over the world at regular intervals and supporting her husband through his 30 year Navy career.

As a Military Spouse she has been through the challenges of managing a household with her husband deployed. She understands the conflicting desire to pursue a career and spend meaningful time with a young family. She has also dealt with the most daunting work related challenge I face right now – getting out of the house with two young children by 6.30am in a cleanly pressed suit.

I used to imagine mentoring as a very formal arrangement where a more seasoned professional would provide someone like me with sage counsel and advice on the next career move. In recent years I have learned that a mentoring arrangement can be invaluable in all aspects of my life.

As Military Spouses, we face a greater range of daily hurdles than most. My sister was half way through her tale of a tough week (her husband had worked until after 6 most nights), when she remembered that mine had been gone for 5 months, wasn’t coming home for another 2, and my closest family is an 8 hour flight away. As career minded Military Spouses we face these hurdles, the uncertainty of where we will be in 6 months time, and also pursue our own independent careers. Who wouldn’t want unbiased advice from someone who has been there and done that beforehand!


What Is a Mentor?


A mentor is somebody you can turn to for advice, inspiration, or a fresh set of ideas. A mentor can connect you with resources and with other people. A mentor is someone who may have walked a similar professional path before you, and can impart the wisdom that only comes with experience. A mentor who understands the challenges of the military lifestyle is of particular value to those Military Spouses pursuing professional career paths.

Ideally a mentor is not a current colleague. You need to avoid any potential conflict of interest as you seek workplace related advice or discuss your future plans. Your mentor needs to be somebody with whom you connect. It should be somebody you enjoy talking to, trust, want to learn from, and somebody who also has the time to develop the relationship.


So Where Can I Find a Mentor?


You may already know someone who would make a great mentor. A mentor could be somebody you have worked with previously, or someone who trained you. If nobody springs to mind, there are a number of great nonprofit organizations which work to connect Military Spouses with appropriate mentors. The MilSpouse eMentor Program enables you to locate willing mentors within both corporate America and the Military Spouse community.  Joining Forces Mentoring Plus offers similar mentoring resources to Female Veterans and Military Spouses. For more information on Mentoring, including how to ask, visit IGC’s Professional Development pages.




Understanding the Military Spouse Residency Relief Act

Military Spouse Residency Relief Act (MSRRA) and your CareerHave you just finished filing your taxes in a different state to your spouse? Perhaps you just had a PCS and are in the process of updating your drivers license and registering to vote in your brand new “home state.”

Moving regularly can be a complex administrative process. Service Members have always been allowed to retain one state of residence (legally known as a “state of domicile”) through a series of military related moves, but until recently, Military Spouses were not covered by any such legislation. In 2009 this changed with the creation of the Military Spouse Residency Relief Act (MSRRA).


What is the MSRRA?


The MSRRA allows Military Spouses, under specified conditions, to maintain one “state of domicile” for the purposes of residency, voting and taxation. The law does not permit the Military Spouse to pick and choose any state. It must be the same state as that claimed by the Service Member, and the Military Spouse must qualify for residency in that particular state.


Am I covered?


If you and your Service Member currently claim different “states of domicile,” it means that you may not be able to claim the MSRRA unless the Service Member switches their “state of domicile” to the one you are currently located in. My husband has always claimed Florida, but when we married he was stationed in Texas. I moved to, and therefore became a resident of Texas. I was ineligible to claim Florida residency under the MSRRA as I had never lived and could not meet their state requirements for residency. Moving on military orders to Ohio, my husband continued to claim Florida, but I was forced to change to Ohio. We then moved to Florida. Once living in Florida, I met the state requirements to become a resident. When we moved to Hawaii, I was covered under the MSRRA as I had the same “state of domicile” as my husband. I can continue to claim Florida for the remainder of our military PCS moves.


What are the taxation implications for a Military Spouse working in a state different to their state of residence?


A Military Spouse is exempt from paying state income taxes in the state they are working if they are covered under the MSRRA. The Military Spouse must:

  • reside in a state different than the state of claimed residency, and
  • reside in the state solely to live with the Service Member.

The Service Member must be present in the state in compliance with military orders, and the Military Spouse and Service Member must both legally claim the same state of residency. If you and your Service Member spouse are fortunate enough to claim one of the nine US states with limited or no income tax, it means you may only need to file your Federal Taxes with the IRS. If your “state of domicile” has a high state income tax rate, you might consider waiving your protections under the MSRRA and choosing to change your “state of domicile” to the one in which you are physically located and working.


But what if my employer withholds state taxes even though I am covered under the MSRRA?


Many employers may not be aware of the MSRRA and will automatically withhold or deduct state taxes. The easiest way to avoid this is to understand wether you qualify for the MSRRA, and if so, to ensure that your employer is made aware of your claimed “state of domicile” under the MSRRA when you fill out your initial employment paperwork and W-2. If your employer does not withhold state taxes, most states do not require you to file a tax return in that state. However, if your employer has withheld state taxes and you are covered under the MSRRA, you will need to file to have that money returned. If your “state of domicile” does have a state income tax, you will need to file in that state.

Where can I learn more?


The MSRRA is a complex piece of legislation and individual states have different requirements to prove eligibility to claim residence. The Federation of Tax Administrators provide a thorough summary of the MSRRA and Turbotax contains some good state by state information for military families. An internet search for “MSRRA and <state>” will usually yield the more specific guidance for your location. Links to these state based documents are also contained within the Local Chapter Forums on the In Gear Career website. It is definitely worthwhile to ensure you fully understand your rights and options under the MSRRA as it may reduce the administrative hassle of the next move and leave more money in your pocket.

Asking For A Raise: The Process Too Many Military Spouses Neglect

Let’s be honest. As Military Spouses, many of us are so relieved to find rewarding employment that we are ready to sign on the dotted line for whatever our employer is willing to offer. If we do negotiate, we breathe a sigh of relief when it is over and get on with the job. By the time our first performance review comes around the following year, many of us are already dreading the inevitable PCS, and asking for a raise seems inappropriate, if not the last thing on our minds. Asking for a raise – it is the process too many Military Spouses are neglecting.

So why do we need to reconsider this? Firstly, for those female Military Spouses out there, women have been shown to be notoriously bad at negotiating salaries and proactively asking for raises. They are more likely to expect an employer to automatically recognize performance outcomes and reward them appropriately. Men – well they are more likely to ask. Carnegie Mellon Economist, Linda Babcock, estimates that “failing to negotiate your salary at the beginning of your career will cost businesswomen $1.0 – $1.5M” over your working lifetime.

Military Spouses need to be proactive about asking employers for a raise.Failure to ask for a raise has another tangible impact that stretches beyond your hip pocket. Like it or not, many employers including the Federal Government ask you to provide a salary history as part of your application. Although we KNOW that your competitiveness for a position should be judged solely on your skills, performance and accomplishments…let’s be realistic. That salary you listed will subconsciously form part of the judgment about your competency and market value. If your starting and ending salary are significantly different – you are marketing yourself as a proven contributor. The less tangible issue you should consider is that your job satisfaction will improve if you believe you are being fairly remunerated and recognized for the contributions you have made to a workplace.

So perhaps you are a Military Spouse who is breathing a sigh of relief as your current employer offers merit based increases and so you won’t need to have this discussion. I remember being quite chuffed by my first “merit based increase “of 2%…until I considered that the average rate of inflation in the US  has been 2% every year since 2003. Remember that your employer has a “bottom line” that they need to look after, so it is up to you to understand the salary market, inflation, and advocate for your professional worth. If your employer is pre-empting a raise with a token “merit based increase;”  chances are you are worth more than you are currently being paid.

Here are five strategies that will help you master the art of asking for a raise.

Understand Your Value in the Marketplace

Before you make any approach to negotiate a salary or raise, you need to research your value in both your position and location. As Military Spouses, we move often. It is important to recognize that supply and demand, and the cost of living can significantly change your salary in different geographic areas. Websites such as and allow you to research average salary by position type and location. They also provide free data which will allows you to compare your education and level of experience with others in the field. and enable you to further research salary rates by specific employer. Finally, use a mentor or knowledge gathered from informational interviews to gain advice on what your skills and performance outcomes are worth. Your request to an employer needs to be reasonable and within the “ballpark.”

Time Your Approach

The best times to request a raise are before your annual performance review, or immediately after you have completed a significant milestone or project. If you wait until after your annual performance review, any merit based increase may already have been adjudicated. Remember that as a Military Spouse, you may only have 2-3 years in location so don’t be shy about making the request before your first performance review if you believe it is justified.

As part of your research, learn when your company reviews performance, when annual and quarterly budgets are finalized, and make sure you understand any salary related restrictions your employer has. Then…ask for a meeting to discuss your salary. This gives your employer the courtesy of reviewing your performance and salary prior to the meeting. Try not to discuss salary over email as you want to be able to interpret your employer’s body language as you present your justification and request.

Prepare Evidence and Justify Your Request

Your justification for a salary raise cannot be that childcare has become more expensive, or that fuel prices have increased. It needs to be based upon the requirements of the position and the value that you provide to the company. If your position responsibilities have expanded or changed in scope, this may be grounds for an increase in salary. Alternatively, consider your performance outcomes, and provide evidence of the tangible contributions you have made. Keep a file throughout the year with comments from satisfied clients, details of projects you have successfully completed, or initiatives you have created. Before your meeting, prepare a one to two page document with an introduction addressing your satisfaction with the position/ company, a section focussing on your tangible outcomes over the specified time period, and then close with a request for a commensurate salary increase. Be prepared to answer your employer’s immediate question of “How much are you talking about?”

Anticipate Objections and Consider Alternative “Win-Win” Scenarios

Think about any objections your employer may have and be ready to respond to these with statistics, evidence and market data. Not every employer is in a position to accommodate a raise, so consider alternatives such as a “one-off bonus,” a “project completion bonus,” reduced hours for an increased hourly rate, paid professional development opportunities or more flexible working arrangements as back-up options.

Keep the Conversation Professional

If your employer requires time to consider the decision, respect that and thank them for looking into it. If the answer is “No,” don’t respond with “Oh well, it was worth a try.” “Thank you for your consideration – I understand your position,”  ends the conversation professionally but leaves your employer with the thought that you may be more marketable elsewhere. Perhaps they will reconsider at the first available opportunity.

Above all, remember that  your salary should reflect your market value and performance outcomes. Employing a Military Spouse is not a charitable decision by an employer – it is a smart one. The Military Spouses I have had the pleasure to work with give 300 percent and get more achieved in shorter periods of time, than almost every other employee I have come across. Perhaps because Military Spouses know they may be in a location for a short time, they approach every new position with a commitment to perform and achieve from Day One. As you move forward in your career, remember your ongoing value to your employer, consider inflation, and don’t forget to ask for that raise!

The Military Spouse Obstacle Course: Returning from an extended career break

I am at that “stage of life.” As the mother of two young children, I find myself surrounded by friends who will tolerate my conversations about sleep deprivation, picky eaters and the pros and cons of preschool. Well I’ll be honest – I seek these people out as they understand the current chaos of my life and are forgiving of the unreturned emails and phone calls. Some of these friends have chosen to continue working and others have selected the “pause option” on their working lives while they navigate life with children. Within the Military community, it is particularly common to find people on an extended career break because of the challenges associated with moving regularly, and with managing a family while the Service Member is deployed for extended period.

The good news for Military Spouses taking this option is that it is becoming more widely understood within the corporate community, and a break from the standard career path does not spell the end of the road by any stretch of the imagination. In “A Case for a Career Break“, Linda Zecher, a corporate Vice President at Microsoft,  observed that , “What I’ve come to realize, and share with younger women, is that it also helped me in my career. It helped me see that my professional life was a big part of my identity, but not the whole of it. It showed me that a successfully career is not a linear process. That realization was not just healthy. It was liberating.”

I have often been approached by Military Spouses with older children who are looking to re-enter the workforce. I remember one Commanding Officer’s wife who listened wistfully to the drama of my work day and then confided that she missed that same drama and had begun applying for positions. When she told me she was applying for entry level positions because of her 10 year break from the workforce, I told her she was selling herself very short. Work related experience and skills do not just come from paid positions. This particular spouse was renowned for her ability to warmly engage and relate to people from every walk of life. She had coordinated and chaired countless committees and events and had an energy and organizational skill set second to none. She had adapted to life on 3 separate continents, had a well established career in education prior to her break, and would be an asset for any workplace.

I have also been approached by younger spouses considering a family. They often ask for advice on how to manage and approach the career break. I like the terminology “on and off ramping,” When you think of your career as a highway, a career break can take you on an “off-ramp”, but ideally this hiatus can be planned and managed effectively so that “on-ramping” is a natural follow-on at a later time. So wether you are getting ready for the “on-ramp” or just contemplating the idea of a detour from your career, the gameplan below should give you confidence that your re-entry to the workforce can be powerful and effective.

Anticipate and Prepare for the “On Ramp”: Just like a busy highway in a foreign city – we need to be prepared for the changes associated with a return to the workforce, and a roadmap and good directions will ensure we choose the right option. If you have lost touch with your industry and contacts during your “off-ramp” time, make the effort to reengage. Professional Networking sites with Industry Forums like LinkedIn offer an ideal way to re-engage with your field and build your network of contacts prior to seeking employment. Also consider the Military Spouse community:  In Gear Career could provide a valuable connection or you could locate a mentor through the Mil Spouse E-Mentor Program – perhaps someone who has successfully returned from a similar break and can advise and guide your path.

Broaden the net of opportunities: Use the career break to revisit your work related skills, preference and values. Just as a break from a complex problem can allow you to return with a fresh approach; let the career break expand the lens through which you view your opportunities. Consider different types of opportunities – perhaps Part Time, Freelance, Contract or Nonprofit work never previously made your radar. Assess the opportunities and don’t limit your approach to targeting exactly where you came from.

Acknowledge the “Detour”: Rather than steering away from the Chronological Resume in the hope that the employer won’t notice (you know they will) – be upfront, address the issue, and move on to market your skills. The Professional Profile could begin with “Science focused professional reentering the workforce after a career hiatus to raise a family. Over 6 years experience at 2 separate Environmental Conservation Facilities…..”  Also consider any other professionally related experience you may have gained during the hiatus. Rather than listing “Volunteer Experience”, consider marketing an “Other Experience” section which could contain details of the unpaid skills you have gained over this period by organization/ association and skill set without the “volunteer” tagline.

Confidently market your “relaunched” self: Approach the interview with the confidence that you not only have the “pre-break” career skill set, but also newfound enthusiasm, energy, balance and life experience. Don’t avoid the subject of your break but do go on to talk about those great professional stories you have as if they were yesterday. Consider preparing an explanation of why your break may actually help you be a better employee!

We do not need to look far to find professionals who have returned to their career stronger and more successfully after a break.  The Wall Street Journal featured an article on Getting from At-Home to On The Job with examples of 4 women who successfully made the transition. Their stories exemplify Attitude, Approach and Marketing. It is all about navigating and planning the “off-ramp” and “on-ramp” stages. As Military Spouses we are particularly adept at responding to change, adversity and the unpredictable, so don’t be daunted by the prospect of returning from a career break. You will thrive!

The Obstacle Course series aims to address some of the more common challenges experienced by Military Spouses in pursuit of meaningful career paths. Stay tuned for follow-on articles on the issues which may affect you and we welcome you to share your thoughts and personal experiences with the group.