ON FEB. 13, 2018, the Office of Special Counsel released updated guidance to “help federal employees understand what the Hatch Act does and does not allow when using social media.” The new guidance maintained that all federal employees may use social media if they comply with three (or in limited cases four) prohibitions.
First, employees “may not engage in politicalactivity while on duty or in the federal workplace.”Second, employees “may not knowingly solicit,accept, or receive a political contribution for a political party, candidate in a partisan race, or partisan political group.” Third, employees “may not use their official authority or influence to affect the outcome of an election.” A fourth prohibition applies to employees that are “further restricted” under the Hatch Act (including Senior Executive Service members, administrative law judges, contract appeals board members, administrative appeal judges, and employees of 17 individual agencies or agency components identified by the Hatch Act). That fourth prohibition for “further restricted” employees is that “further restricted” employees may not take an active part in partisan political management or campaigning, even when off duty or outside of the federal workplace in their personal capacity.
The guidance provided examples in which social media use can violate each prohibition. For example, employees who use their personal cellphone during lunch breaks may not like or share Facebook posts about upcoming political events in a partisan race. Another example is that employees teleworking may not retweet endorsements, even from the president, of congressional candidates. Similar restrictions apply for “following,” “liking” or “friending” candidates or partisan groups while on duty or at work.
The guidance also warns against using your official title or position in social media messaging when those messages are directed at the success or failure of a political party, candidate or partisan political group. An example is the prohibition against mentioning your official title or position when posting a positive comment on the Twitter account of a candidate in a local partisan race, even if off duty or outside the workplace.
According to the guidance, supervisors may be friends or follow subordinates on social media, but must not send political messages to subordinates or tag subordinates in a political conversation on social media. The full guidance is located on OSC’s website.