Avoid Politics in the Federal Workplace

By John V. Berry, www.berrylegal.com

The 2019 primaries and 2020 national elections are approaching soon. Our law firm often represents and defends federal employees in Hatch Act violation cases. The Hatch Act was meant to curtail partisan political involvement for federal employees. There are certain restrictions that prohibit certain political conduct, both on-duty and off-duty. As these elections approach, this article is meant to help federal employees avoid the problems of committing potential Hatch Act violations.  

What is the Hatch Act?

The Hatch Act was first proposed by Senator Carl Hatch of New Mexico and enacted in 1939 prohibiting certain types of political participation by federal employees. This can vary between types of federal employees. For most federal employees, however, the rules are similar.  Federal employees may not seek public office in partisan elections, use their official titles or authority when engaging in political activities, solicit or receive contributions for partisan political candidates or groups, and/or engage in political activity while on duty. Even some non-partisan elections can give rise to Hatch Act violations by federal employees if a candidate is sufficiently backed by a particular party.

Office of Special Counsel Enforcement for Hatch Act Violations

For most federal employees, the Hatch Act is enforced by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). The OSC has the ability to seek disciplinary action against federal employees if violations are uncovered. Typically, violations are investigated following a complaint being filed with the OSC.  Federal employees can potentially be disciplined or terminated for violations of the Hatch Act.  Generally, the OSC will first conduct a detailed investigation into the allegations and then if violations are found they may then seek to negotiate a resolution with the alleged offender.

white house

Photo by Aaron Kittredge on Pexels.com

In other cases, the OSC may file inform the individual that they are simply moving ahead with a disciplinary action filing with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) against the employee (usually seeking removal) and ask an MSPB administrative judge to take action against the federal employee for at the violations.    

General Hatch Act Tips for Federal Employees 

Federal employees are encouraged to seek advice before engaging in political activities. There are many types of federal employees and some are more restricted than others. Here are 8 simple tips for federal employees seeking to avoid potential Hatch Act violations:

1.   Don’t run for office in a partisan political election;

2.   Avoid partisan political discussions while in the federal workplace or while performing work;

3.   Don’t try to raise funds for partisan political candidates in the workplace (even passing along website links for candidates to co-workers); 

4.   Don’t post political opinion or discussion during work hours on social media;

5.   Don’t donate to a political campaign during work hours; 

6.   Don’t bring political campaign signs or buttons into the federal workplace;

7.   Don’t use government resources (email, internet) to engage in partisan politics; and

8.   Don’t use your government title or affiliation to endorse a political candidate.

Federal employees can usually still participate in many political activities, but doing so at work can be a violation of the Hatch Act. Federal employees can sometimes be candidates for non-partisan elections, assist in voter registration drives, express political opinions, attend fundraisers, sign nominating petitions or hold office in political parties.

For further information on potential Hatch Act violations, please see the information offered by the OSC. While it is doubtful that brief discussions about politics in the federal workplace would trigger an OSC investigation, the potential risk is there. The safest course for federal employees is to simply avoid partisan politics in the workplace and save them for off-duty.  

Conclusion

If you need assistance with Hatch Act defense or other federal employment law issues, please contact our office at (703) 668-0070 or at www.berrylegal.com to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BerryBerryPllc.

Advertisements