Improving Employment Protections for Military Spouses

A young couple poses in front of a home. The woman is holding a large vanilla lab.
Megan Immell, with husband Dallas and dog Rowdy.

Megan Immell, a military spouse of five years, is beginning to feel the impacts on her career while she supports her husband who serves in the U.S. Army. At an early age, Megan knew she wanted to help underserved communities and saw a way to do just that by pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Education. However, her spouse’s active and unpredictable schedule has disrupted her career, leading to her teaching at three different schools in five years.

When military families face an upcoming deployment or long-term training, often the spouse ends up moving home for community support. That is exactly what Megan did when her husband went, unaccompanied, to training for five months in Arizona. She returned to Ohio to be with her family and friends until her husband returned from training.

Thousands of spouses face the same challenges of maintaining a career while supporting the high operational tempos of being connected to the military community. Cultivating relationships and building support networks is a challenge for military spouses. These networks, or lack thereof, can have a profound impact on their quality of life.

The Department of Labor Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) understands the obstacles that military spouses must overcome and we’re partnering with Department of Defense and other federal partners to help military spouses sustain their own careers while their spouses serve through Transition Employment Assistance for Military Spouses and Caregivers, cost-free employment workshops offered to assist with resume writing, interview skills, marketing yourself and entrepreneurship, to name a few.

In honor of Military Spouse Appreciation Day, Assistant Secretary James D. Rodriguez recently hosted a panel, Protecting Military Spouses in the Workplace, to discuss the Biden-Harris administration’s support of our work to increase employment protections for military spouses.

During the panel, Megan described her personal experience as a military spouse and the barriers to continuing her employment while supporting her husband’s career. She was joined on the panel by Angela Neal, a military spouse and owner and director of Special Projects and Economic Development for Project Solvers, who shared that military spouses accrue non-traditional experiences from volunteering but felt that employers do not view that as “real” experience.

Marco Schinella, an Italian Army veteran and an associate director at TDI, described the challenges of being a foreign-born military spouse and transferring education, certifications and skills to a new country. Faye Fernandes, a U.S. Air Force veteran and counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, explained that her husband’s decision to leave the military stemmed from her wanting to pursue her own career as a lawyer.

After the panel, Paul Marone, VETS’s senior compliance policy advisor, talked about our work to update the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act legislation to expand employment protections to military spouses, saying: “By expanding USERRA protections to military spouses, employers will be encouraged to find creative ways to keep military spouses employed when they otherwise would be forced to leave due to their service member’s service. Knowing that they will be required by law to reemploy military spouses upon their return, employers could choose to use available workplace flexibility options to keep their military spouse employees as part of their team.”

Many military families struggle to balance two careers, and until employment protections for military spouses are improved, service members may leave the military earlier than they otherwise might. The retention issue negatively affects the sustainment of the All-Volunteer Force – a national security issue.

Megan is now looking for a new opportunity, preferably remote, where she can grow her career instead of having to start over every time the military moves her family. She advises new military spouses to get involved with the community. “I was hesitant to join the world of military spouses, but I found out about programs and resources available through other military spouses,” said Megan.

VETS also provides workshops through Off-Base Transition Training as well as other resources for military spouses and veterans looking to expand their employment opportunities.

Karla Langham is the acting chief of staff for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service. Follow VETS on Twitter and LinkedIn.