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Mixing politics and social media can mean trouble for federal employees

With election season in full swing, political opinions are not hard to come by. If you are a federal employee, you may already know that there are limits on things you can say or do regarding your political opinions. Since 1939, the Hatch Act has set limits on non-elected government employees in this regard. Up until recently, the enforcement of the act was pretty straightforward, as digital online communication did not exist. However, with the advent of social media, it is possible for people to make their opinions known to a worldwide audience instantly with a few clicks of a mouse.

Since the Hatch Act did not take into account social media when it was passed, questions regarding expression of political on this medium have multiplied. Fortunately, the Office of Special Council (OSC) recently issued rules clarifying this point. Since violations of the act can lead to disciplinary action against violators, it is important for you to know how the Hatch Act applies to your social media activities.

What you can do

Under the guidance recently issued by the OSC, having pictures of candidates or campaign logos on your personal social media accounts is generally allowed. Additionally, with certain exceptions, you may share, post or "like" political content on your personal social media platforms.

What you cannot do

Although posting, sharing and "liking" political opinions on social media is generally allowable, it is never allowable if you are doing it while you are on duty or in the workplace. If you are on lunch or another break in your office, you must walk out of the building before posting anything partisan to your social media accounts.

In addition to these restrictions, federal employees are prohibited from referring to their official positions or titles when posting political material. However, merely listing your position on Facebook, without more, is not a violation. Additionally, it is a violation of the act for you to suggest or solicit political contributions at any time. It is also a violation to "like" a post that solicits campaign contributions.

If you work in intelligence or law enforcement, there are more restrictions. According to the OSC, you may "like" or comment on a tweet from a candidate when you are off duty. However, you may never share or retweet it, even if you are off duty at the time.

Facing disciplinary action? We can help

If you are ever facing disciplinary action, much is at stake, so it is important to take action to protect your legal rights. For more than 25 years, the law firm of Passman & Kaplan, P.C. has assisted federal employees facing disciplinary actions of all sorts. We understand the importance of what is on the line and can take all appropriate measures to minimize the negative repercussions and obtain a just result.

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