OSC Issues Updated Social Media Hatch Act Guidance
On February 13, 2018, the United States Office of Special Counsel released updated Hatch Act Guidance on Social Media to “help federal employees understand what the Hatch Act does and does not allow when using social media.”
The new guidance maintained that all federal employees may use social media as long as they comply with three (or in limited cases four) prohibitions. First, employees “may not engage in political activity while on duty or in the federal workplace.” Second, employees “may not knowingly solicit, accept, or receive a political contribution for a political party, candidate in a partisan race, or partisan political group.” Third, employees “may not use their official authority or influence to affect the outcome of an election.” A fourth prohibition applies to employees that are “further restricted” under the Hatch Act (including Senior Executive Service members, administrative law judges, contract appeals board members, administrative appeal judges, and employees of seventeen individual agencies or agency components identified by the Hatch Act). That fourth prohibition for “further restricted” employees is that “further restricted” employees may not take an active part in partisan political management or campaigning, even off duty or outside of the federal workplace in their personal capacity.
The guidance provided a variety of examples of ways in which social media use can violate each prohibition. For example, the guidance states that employees who use their personal cell phone during lunch breaks may not like or share Facebook posts about upcoming political events in a partisan race. Another example given by the guidance is that employees who are teleworking may not retweet endorsements, even from the President, of congressional candidates. Similar prohibitions apply for “following,” “friending,” or “liking” candidates or partisan groups while on duty or in the workplace.
The guidance also warns against using your official title or position in your social media messaging when those messages are directed at the success or failure of a political party, candidate, or partisan political group. An example listed by the guidance is the prohibition against mentioning your official title or position when posting a positive comment on the Twitter account of a candidate in a local partisan race, even if off duty or outside of the workplace.
According to the guidance, supervisors may be friends or follow subordinates on social media, but must not send political messages to subordinates, or tag subordinates in a political conversation on social media.
The full guidance, which includes many more examples of the application of Hatch Act prohibitions in social media use, is located on OSC’s website.
Read the full Hatch Act Guidance on Social Media
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