Does your agency limit your political expression through policy?

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This topic contains 15 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by  Joshua Salmons 8 years, 4 months ago.

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  • #149802

    Joshua Salmons

    In this political season, with political tweets and blog posts abounding by the second, I was curious how govies waded into the melee? Or if you did at all?

    Are there policies at your workplace that forbid the expression of your political beliefs in public settings? I know in the DOD, service members can express their opinions, so long as they do it as a citizen and not a uniformed service member, nor if they make it obvious they are in the military.

    What about others? Do you have policies that dictate where and when you an participate in political talks? Do you agree with these policies? Why/why not?

  • #149830

    Peter Sperry

    Public employees should not be making statements in support of or opposition to any candidate for political office, political party, ideology or any other issue which may be a subjcect of debate among the electorate while in a work envirnoment. They have the same freedom as any other citizen in a non work environment but should leave their employer out of it.

    If you were discussing sports, would your status as a government employee have any relevence to the fact the Redskins couldn’t beat a second rate highschool team? Why would you bring it up? The same applies to politics and public policy. Your status as a government employee has no relevence to the discussion. Don’t bring it up.

  • #149828

    Joshua Salmons

    In your opinion, is it better for those in government to say their opinions are their own, or to hide their employment altogether?

    Again, in DOD (where I have the most experience, sorry :p), most people just hide the fact that they are service members. However, now that I’m in the private sector, FTC guidance prefers employees be more forthright with their “material connections.” They must be displayed prominently and in proximity to messaging that could be considered influencing on opinions surrounding the company.

  • #149826

    Preston G. Baker

    The City of New York has long standing rules that prohibit political activity while on the job. You can campaign all you want as long as it is done on your own time and not on NYC property.

  • #149824

    Mark Hammer

    The Canadian Public Service Employment Act, that came into full effect at the end of 2005, attempted to provide some codified guidelines across the entire Canadian federal publics service, with respect to public servants’ rights and responsibilities with regard to political expression, activity, and candidacy, that were further articulated by additional policies. Personally, I wouldn’t say its intent is to “limit” political expression, but rather to provide a prudent code of conduct for assuring that the public service functions in a non-partisan manner, and is perceived as such by citizens and other stakeholders.

    You can learn more about the scope of coverage, and how individual behaviour is broached, here: One of the more interesting elements is a structured self-assessment tool that encourages public servants to take into consideration the nature of their role, the visibility of that position, their own visibility within the community and within whatever political “expression” they intend to take on, and a number of other factors. One of the goals is to have a better personal sense of what forms or contexts of “political expression” may risk compromising the impartiality of the public service.

    You can imagine that there are ongoing discussions about the scope of what falls under the heading of “political activity” with the landscape of such expanding daily. Political expression used to be just campaigning for candidates (or being one yourself), letters to the editor, and campaign signs on your lawn. Of course, things have branched out quite a bit since those days, making it trickier to find that boundary between one’s political expression rights as a citizen, and one’s ethical responsibilities to support and sustain the impartiality of the institution that employs you. And with elected officials themselves increasingly making use of social media, it sometimes gets even trickier to find that line.

    Whatever the case, and whatever the jurisdiction, whether it’s political expression or any other form of behaviour, (e.g., claiming overtime, use of scents in the office, internet use), it’s always good to have a clear and set of guidelines that are understood by all. People can get along remarkably well when they understand what’s expected and why.

  • #149822

    Joshua Salmons

    Good points Peter, and I would agree, but people push the envelope when we say “no, but yes under certain conditions.”

    What constitutes a “work environment”? Are you referring to time of day? Maybe whether or not someone is using a work computer? What if I used my personal iPad and personal data plan while at my desk, or on break?

    Does your agency limit personal Internet access while at work? Many agencies that I worked with allowed for incidental and personal use of websites (like this one) during work hours, so long as it didn’t interfere with productivity.

    Not arguing, just curious 🙂

  • #149820

    Joshua Salmons

    Interesting. So NYC says while you are located on the premises of municipal buildings, all behavior is limited? That’s a good way of defining it, I think.

    And I take it that “political activity” means a lot of things? If I were to retweet an article with a headline “Someone should tell Perry it’s over.”, does that fall under that category?

  • #149818

    Joshua Salmons

    Nice! And well put. I’ll take a look at your link. Thanks!

    I’m also a fan of guardrails for people–not directing their step-by-step, day-by-day behavior, but giving them limits and letting them play in the boundaries of the sandbox, so to speak.

    It allows people to act out their values and judgement without the agency or oversight entity being oppressive.

  • #149816

    Peter Sperry

    To me a “work environment” is less about time, location etc than context. The goal is to avoid giving the impression the individual is using their official position to influence public policy on which they should, when acting as a public employee, remain nuetral. Under current federal, and most state/local, regulations, an employee who made an anonymous statement of suppport for a candidate on a blog site from their work computer on government time would be in more troulbe than one who attended a social event on their on time, casually let everyone know where they worked, waited 10 minutes, expressed support for a candidate and was accompanied by a “friend” who later contacted everyone at the event for a donation. The first person has violated the letter of the regulations but the second has done far more damage to their spirit.

  • #149814

    Joshua Salmons

    Very true, it is hard to specifically legislate broad behavior. I always seem to run into people with situational ethics. If they can get away with something (letter of the law), they don’t seem to have a problem with it, regardless of how edgy the behavior is. Whether it’s a quick tweet to “just friends” or posts to Facebook, etc., many people don’t realize how public these forums are.

  • #149812


    – Political Expression Under the Hatch Act…

    – Can We Talk? A Guide to Political Expression in the Workplace:

    – New Zealand’s Take:

  • #149810

    Mark Hammer

    Thanks for those links. I always enjoy sifting through the NZ State Services Commission site. It brings together a lot of thoughtful material in an easily-findable way.

    One of the differences between Westminster systems, like Canada and New Zealand, and the U.S.A., is the forms of political appointments. Our functional equivalent of Secretaries, Under-secretaries, and Assistant Under-secretaries are not political appointees, who serve at the pleasure of the President or Governor. The Secretary equivalents are elected representatives, equivalent to a Congressional rep, and the senior officials in their portfolio are public-service “lifers”, whose role and employment is essentially permanent and straddles multiple administrations. Even though there are boundaries of what is and isn’t permitted within both political systems, I think that tends to change the complexion of where the boundary is or is perceived to be.

    I think it is also important to acknowledge that “political expression” of employees has different implications, depending on the level of government. A Canadian federal employee can often comment quite freely about municipal affairs, because very few municipal governments in Canada include a party system. Things get trickier when federal employees wish to express themselves about provincial matters, where the party system is in full play, and is often connected to federal politics, and obviously MUCH trickier when federal employees wish to express themselves about federal matters/candidates. of course, it is always incumbent on employees to make it clear they don’t speak for their employer (unless that is their formal role), but I think it is reasonable to suggest that some forms of individual political expression, more than others, are more easily mistakenly attributed to organizations, because of the level of politics being addressed and the level of government the individual is part of. Realistically, it’s not really any different than paying attention to the stuff you can say/do around your kids, or around your parents, compared to around your friends.

  • #149808

    Earl Rice

    In the US Federal Government, the Hatch Act is pretty restrictive in some ways though each administration changes it a bit. Example I can put up a picture of Mr. Obama, as long as it is an OFFICIAL Presidential portrait as The President. I can put up a picture of Governor Perry, as long as it is an official picture as the Governor of Texas. I can also put up a picture, if I am in it with the candidate in a non-political setting (i.e. Newt and I out fishing together on the lower Chesapeake). Outside of that, everything else is a no-go. Oh, and I can have a bumper sticker on my car. And, God help me if I try to campaign at work. Don’t know which would happen first, I would be crucified or I would be immediately terminated. That’s the maximum extent I can go at work (it gets more restrictive as the SES level). Outside of work I can do activities, but in no way shape or form can I use my position nor use my authority to support a candidate of my choosing for any office. From what I have seen, these rules have been closely followed by the Federal Employees (either voluntarily or with small nudging). Now, when you get to State and County and below (especially at County and below) a much more liberal attitude is taken, even to the point of active campaigning while on the clock if you are suppporting the incumbants.

  • #149806

    Mark Hammer

    Such discussions often focus entirely on the rights and responsibilities of pubic servants as citizens. But they also need to encompass the rights and responsibilities of elected officials, as employers. It is their responsibility too, to maintain the institution of public service as non-partisan in nature.

    The really tricky bits occur when the agency employee themselves becomes an unwilling campaign tool for the politician. Public servants have an obligation to carry out the lawful policies and activities of the government of the day, but they have no obligation, legal or otherwise, to be a shill for that government and help them be re-elected. As at least one major report I’ve read indicates (based on a survey of hundreds of public administration grads now in public sector positions at various levels), over-enthusiastic political staffers sometimes have a difficult time knowing where the line is drawn in terms of co-opting public servants for partisan activities.

    The political impartiality of the public service is an important value to support in a modern democracy. I think it’s everybody’s business to work/act in support of that, whether you’re elected or not. Which is probably why political expression within the workplace is probably less than a best practice, no matter what the level. It runs the risk of making co-opted political support look too normal. But that’s MY paranoia; doesn’t have to be yours.

  • #149804

    Daniel Shapiro

    As a govenrment employee, you are not allowed to express any political feelings or affiliations. Please refer to the Hatch Act for more information.

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