Federal Employees and the Hatch Act

By John V. Berry, Esq., www.berrylegal.com

Our law firm represents and defends federal employees who have been alleged to have committed Hatch Act violations, require Hatch Act guidance or legal defense or have been subjected to illegal political discrimination in the federal workplace.

What is the Hatch Act?

The Hatch Act of 1939 (Hatch Act), 5 U.S.C. §§ 7321-7326,  was enacted by Congress in an attempt to keep politics out of normal government operations.  The Hatch Act is a federal law that prohibits civilian federal government employees of the Executive Branch from engaging in certain political activities such as influencing elections, participating in or managing political campaigns, holding public office or running for office as a member of a political party.

Goals of Hatch Act Enforcement

OSC Hatch Act The Hatch Act was intended to prohibit federal employees from engaging in partisan political activity which might influence normal government activities. Government authorities apply the Hatch Act in an attempt to curtail political activities by federal employees and supervisors while on duty.

In addition, the Hatch Act can also apply to certain state, local or District of Columbia government employees whose principal employment is in connection with an activity that is financed in whole or in part by federal loans or grants.  The Hatch Act was amended through the Hatch Act Modernization Act of 2012 (HAMA), permitting other state and local employees, even if they are otherwise covered by Hatch Act restrictions, to be generally free under federal law to run for partisan office unless the employee’s salaries are paid for completely by federal loans or grants.  HAMA was signed into law in December 2012. Recent changes to the law are outlined here. OSC Guidance on HAMA

Who Enforces the Hatch Act?

The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is typically the entity charged with investigating Hatch Act violations.  Generally, a Hatch Act complaint is filed at the OSC (Link to File a Complaint). If a Hatch Act violation is found, but is not egregious enough to warrant prosecution, the OSC may issue a letter of warning to the employee involved.  If the OSC charges an employee with a Hatch Act violation, the charges are filed with and adjudicated before the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB).  In addition, after investigating an alleged Hatch Act violation, the OSC may seek disciplinary action against an employee before the MSPB.  Effective January 27, 2013, the penalties for federal government employees can include removal from federal service, reduction in grade, debarment from federal employment for a period not to exceed five (5) years, suspension, reprimand, or a civil penalty not to exceed $1,000.

Conclusion

If you have been charged with an alleged Hatch Act violation or have been subjected to political discrimination please contact Berry & Berry, PLLC to schedule a consultation with an attorney to discuss assistance with preparing for an OSC investigation or interview, filing an answer with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) in response to the OSC’s complaint proposing disciplinary action, or in regard to representation before the MSPB. Our Firm’s Hatch Act practice area can be found here. Berry & Berry PLLC – Hatch Act Page. The firm’s Facebook page is located at Berry & Berry PLLC – Facebook Page.