Almost everyone has at least one social media account, and most account holders visit social media several times each day. Working for the federal government means that your professional and some of your personal activities undergo close scrutiny. In particular, the Hatch Act governs what you can and can't do on social media in your capacity as a federal employee. If you're unsure of your freedom of speech rights as they pertain to your job, a trusted federal employment attorney can help.
Political Activity and Social Media
The Hatch Act restricts a federal employee from participating in certain partisan political activities both on and off duty, which includes some social media activities. The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) has specific social media guidelines for federal employees that clearly explain when it is and isn’t acceptable for federal employees to engage in political activity on social media.
The guidelines state that, in order to comply with the Hatch Act, employees are prohibited from doing the following on social media:
- On Duty or in the Workplace Prohibition – Employees may not engage in any political activity while on duty or in the federal workplace.
- 24/7 Prohibition – Employees may not knowingly solicit, accept, or receive a political contribution for a political party, a candidate in a partisan race, or a partisan political group.
- 24/7 Prohibition – Employees may not use their official authority or influence to affect the outcome of an election.
Personal statements can be mistaken as an official stance of a government agency policy or position. When an employee posts on their own personal social media account, they must be careful to ensure that their account does not reflect the opinion of a government agency.
Prohibited Activities for Federal Employees
To avoid violating the Hatch Act, federal employees are discouraged from posting about politics or political candidates on their personal social media pages while on duty or in a government-owned building. They also cannot write a blog post on their personal blog or a guest blog endorsing a candidate. They may not pass out literature for any candidates.
Can Federal Employees Express Their Political Affiliation?
The Hatch Act does allow federal employees to express a political affiliation. They may post that they identify with a particular party or voted for a certain candidate on social media. If you're unsure of what you're allowed to do on social media or a personal website, consulting with a federal employment attorney can help answer your questions.
How Can I Avoid Violating the Hatch Act?
After learning more about the Hatch Act, federal employees might be concerned about their online activities. Knowing what you can and cannot post online can help limit any future encounters with Hatch Act violations.
Know the Standards of Conduct
All federal employees must abide by the Office of Government Ethics’ Standards of Conduct. These standards don't stop a federal employee from maintaining a personal blog, writing as a guest blogger, sharing opinions on social media, or having one or many social media accounts. However, these rules limit what federal employees can do on social media during their hours of duty on the job. They also limit your ability to use social media for personal gain. Consulting with a federal employment attorney ensures that you understand the Standards of Conduct and how they relate to the use of social media platforms.
Know Your Agency’s Standards
Some federal agencies might have additional regulations regarding online and political activities for their employees. When starting at a new federal agency, it is important to ask if there are additional regulations for social media activity and review those guidelines if applicable.
Avoid Posting About Political Topics Online
When online, you might wish to tailor your activity so that you avoid posting about political topics. While you can share that you have voted on election day or through early voting, stay away from statements that might be perceived as influencing electoral processes and campaigning for candidates.
You also should keep in mind that your online presence is permanent — anything you post online can be retrieved in the future and you can face discipline for any misconduct on social media if it has a nexus to your federal employment. If you believe that your current or past activity online might violate the Hatch Act, Standards of Conduct, or any agency guidelines, contact an experienced federal employment attorney.
Defend Your Rights & Your Career
Caution is key when posting on social media. However, if you feel that you have been wrongfully disciplined or terminated because of something you posted on your social media accounts, don’t hesitate to contact our top-rated, award-winning federal employment attorneys at The Law Firm of John P. Mahoney, Esq., Attorneys at Law, PLLC today.
Schedule a consultation with a member of our team by calling our firm at (202) 350-3881 or filling out our online contact form.