The Facts about the Hatch Act


With the presidential and congressional elections fast approaching, this is a good time for federal employees to brush up on the Hatch Act.

First of all, what is it?

The Hatch Act, which Congress passed in 1939, guides the political activities of federal employees and some other public-sector workers. The original intention was to make sure federal programs are administered in a nonpartisan manner, to protect federal workers from political coercion in the workplace, and to ensure that federal employees are hired and promoted based on merit and not political affiliation.

While the 1939 Act was pretty restrictive, reforms over the years pushed by federal labor groups and others greatly expanded the options of federal workers in the political arena.

Now, there are many ways for an employee to actively express her or his political preferences and opinions. Along with being a federal employee, each government worker is also a citizen of this country and should be able to fully participate in the political process.

Here are some of the most common ways an employee can show support for a candidate or political party:

  • Register and vote for the candidates of your choice
  • Display a political sign at home
  • Put a bumper sticker on a personal car (as long as it is not used for official business).
  • “Friend” or ‘like’ a candidate’s Facebook page
  • Follow a candidate’s Twitter feed, or other social media feeds
  • Contribute to a candidate or campaign.
  • Wear a button or shirt in support of a candidate (but never in a government uniform or at work).
  • Express opinions about all candidates and issues, privately and publicly but not at work
  • Assist in voter registration drives

There are a few, but important, restrictions. Federal employees should never:

  • Run for partisan public office
  • Use their official position to influence election results
  • Use a social media account created in a federal employee’s official capacity to engage in political activity
  • Engage in political activity in government buildings or while on duty (including using government e-mail systems to distribute political messages or posting on social media)
  • Collect, solicit or receive any political contributions from the public through written, oral, email or social media communications.

These lists are by no means a full review of the Hatch Act nor are they legal advice. When in doubt about whether any action is allowed, check first with your union representative.

Since everything about the working life of a federal employee is decided by those elected to Congress it is important to know and exercise your political rights.

I encourage you to exercise those rights. Most of all, let your voice be heard. Vote on Nov. 8.

The writer is National President of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 employees in 31 federal agencies and departments.

Tony Reardon is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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