The Hatch Act’s Do’s and Don’ts of Social Media

What’s your political lean? Are you looking for a Republican sweep at tomorrow’s midterms? Or hoping the predictions were all wrong? As a private citizen, you can take action towards the realization of these political preferences. If you’re a federal employee, however, it’s not so simple.

The Hatch Act of 1939 – or its more Harry Potter-esque official name, An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities – established limitations and restrictions that apply to the political activity of federal employees (those who do not have explicitly political roles, like the president or vice-president). Of course, you can still vote, be a registered member of a political party, and partake in a variety of other politically-related activities.

The important distinction, however, is when you’re in official job capacities (i.e. on-duty, in the workplace, wearing federal uniform or insignia, etc.). This is when the Hatch Act’s restrictions on political activity apply. Political activity, as defined by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, is any activity “directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group.​​” There are also designations between Further Restricted personnel (usually from intelligence or enforcement communities) and Less Restricted personnel.

OK, so don’t wear political buttons in the office or hand out flyers to your co-workers. Problem solved, right? Not quite. With email and social media added to the mix, “political activity” gets fuzzier.

General Counsel from the National Archives provides some examples of political activity that would violate the Hatch Act if done while on duty or using Government property:

  • Using the PC in your office during or after work to produce a brochure in support of a candidate’s campaign
  • Sending email invitations to campaign events to friends within the agency
  • Using federal Internet connections to forward email messages received from a partisan campaign or someone supporting a partisan candidate

Here are some other guidelines related more directly to social media for individual employees as well as agencies, overall:

If a federal employee has listed his official title on his Facebook profile, may he also fill in the “political views” field?

Yes, simply identifying political party affiliation on their social media profiles, which also contains their official title or position, without more, is not “political activity.”

If someone posts/shares a political comment soliciting contributions on a federal employee’s social media page, do they have to delete it?

No, they are not responsible for the acts of a third party, even if those acts appear on their page. However, the employee must not “like,” “share,” “retweet,” or encourage the post in any way.

May a federal agency have a Facebook page or Twitter profile that includes or links to information concerning a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group?

No, an agency’s social media account, like its official website, should only be used to share information about the agency’s official business and mission and should remain politically neutral. The Hatch Act also would prohibit an agency from becoming a “friend” of, “liking,” or “following” political parties, partisan political campaigns, or partisan political groups.

If you are still uncertain about your status under the Hatch Act or any particular limitations, be sure to check in with your agency’s legal team.

For more on the do’s and don’ts of political activity, refer to these helpful resources:

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