Election season guidelines for federal workers

The Hatch Act restricts how open federal employees can be with political preferences

By Vyomika Jairam
Internet Editor

Election season is heating up. Have you decked-out your cubical or office yet with pictures of your favorite candidate?

The Hatch Act limits what some federal employees can do both on and off the job, when it comes to political activity.

The law has been on the books for some time, but Ana Galindo-Marrone, Chief of the Hatch Act Unit at the Office of Special Counsel joined the Federal Drive with a refresher on the do’s and don’ts.

First the restrictions:

Federal employees are prohibited from engaging in political activity while on duty, in a government workplace, wearing any sort of government uniform or while using a government vehicle.

“While the majority of the workforce can engage in political activity off-duty, they need to be reminded that on-duty or on federal premises they’re prohibited from engaging in activity that’s directed at the success or failure of candidates or political parties,” Galindo-Marrone said.

The last part is crucial–the Hatch Act in particular singles out activity in partisan elections. So federal employees can never seek partisan office themselves, and cannot contribute to a partisan candidate’s success while on the job. There are some restrictions for off-the-job behavior as well. One of the 24/7 bans: soliciting for political contributions.

“So even though most federal employees may go around the neighborhood for example canvassing support for a candidate, they still cannot solicit for political contributions,” Galindo-Marrone said.

Continuing down the “don’ts” list, don’t decorate your office.

“On duty, employees cannot display any type of material, whether it is a button, a poster, a screen saver,” Galindo-Marrone said.

One of the newer problems the OSC is seeing?

“The use of email and now social media,” Galindo-Marrone said. “That’s given a rise to a number of new Hatch Act complaints and violations.”

And it’s not specifically written into the statute, but don’t tweet anything on your personal account from your government-issued BlackBerry either.

“You have to wait until you’re home and off-duty to do that,” Galindo-Marrone said.

So what qualifies as allowed?

Lawn signs, as long as they are not displayed in the office. Two colleagues discussing the previous evening’s debate would probably be within the bounds of the Act, Galindo-Marrone said but to convince a colleague to vote for one candidate over another in the cafeteria would not.

“At the end of the day, what you’re looking at was whether the individual engaged in activity that was directed at the success or failure of a candidate or party,” Galindo-Marrone said.

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