Change the Conversation and Hire Spouses
You’ve lived everywhere, huh?
Tell me about yourself.
What (really) brings you to the area?
There’s not a career-minded military spouse in existence that hasn’t been asked some form of these questions during a job interview.
The poorly veiled attempts at determining military affiliation can be harmless for a run-of-the-mill interviewee but the ultimate nail in the coffin to a military spouse’s job search. With only two choices, tip toe around the answers or be upfront about your situation, we wondered—are these questions even legal?
The short answer is yes.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, questions about an applicant’s marital status may be illegal if used to deny or limit employment opportunities.
In theory, employees aren’t allowed to ask about marital status or children, and then use it in their hiring decision. However, if an applicant willingly shares they are married, follow-up questions are fair game when they aren’t influential in the hiring process.
National Military Family Association Human Resources Director Patricia Erickson says if you’re told the employer has hired from within, gone with another candidate or don’t hear back at all, there’s really no leg to stand on in the “I Didn’t Get Hired Because I’m a Military Spouse” battle.
“If the person volunteers any of the information, the employer is supposed to ignore it in their decision making,” Erickson said.
The problem comes up in practice. Erickson says in most cases employers will find another reason not to hire the military spouse employee. Proving an employer made a decision not to hire a military spouse solely because of the perceived risk of their marital status is also really hard. It requires hiring an attorney…and attorneys require money. Add to that, “military spouse” isn’t a federally protected class whose members can rightfully sue for discrimination, and you’ve got a whole lot of unemployed and underemployed military spouses.
Many spouses seek out nontraditional forms of employment outside of the private sector to make PCS life easier. They’re told to get portable careers, pursue entrepreneurship or find a federal job. All of these are Band-Aids to the problem. Not a solution.
There are many reasons to hire a largely untapped pool of military spouse potential. Military spouses are resilient, flexible, able to adapt to command structures and are extremely loyal. (Moving every two to three years tends to do that to you; it’s easier to stick with the job you can land than find another). Yet, according to 2014 Department of Defense demographics, 25 percent of military spouses are unemployed—a rate three times higher than civilian spouses.
A recent study by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families and Prudential on military spouse unemployment also found that not only are military spouses facing higher unemployment, when they find a job, they make 38 percent less than their civilian counterparts. Thirty-three percent also report being underemployed based on their educational background.
These statistics don’t sit well with us.
Our Association seeks to ease military spouse job woes by offering scholarships, education and employment assistance and other resources for spouses chasing their career and education goals. Testimony falls on Congress’ ears but it’s also important for the need for spouse employment to be shared with the general public. Congress hears our testimony, but it’s also important for civilians, universities, employers, and others not in the military-life arena to know the challenges military spouses face.
If we’re going to spread the word that military spouses are an asset we must change the conversation.
Posted August 15, 2016