JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas –
The Hatch Act, a federal law passed in 1939, limits certain political activities of federal employees, as well as some state, D.C., and local government employees who work in connection with federally funded programs. The law’s purposes are to ensure federal programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion, to protect federal employees from political coercion in the workplace, and to ensure federal employees are advanced based on merit and not based on political affiliation.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel has received questions about the Hatch Act’s application to the unprecedented number of employees who are now teleworking as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, OSC issued an advisory, which is intended to assist employees in understanding their continuing obligations under the Hatch Act.
The advisory addresses the following three areas that are particularly relevant for employees who telework: when employees are considered “on duty;” videoconferencing and other virtual communications; and social media.
The Hatch Act prohibits employees from, among other things, engaging in political activity while they are on duty.
Political activity is defined as activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, partisan political group, or candidate for partisan political office, according to the advisory.
Employees are “on duty” for purposes of the Hatch Act when they are: in a pay status other than paid leave, compensatory time off, credit hours, time off as an incentive award, or excused or authorized absence (including leave without pay); or when they are representing any agency in an official capacity.
Employees maintaining a regular work schedule while teleworking have the same on-duty status as if they were reporting to their regular duty stations. Therefore, they are subject to the Hatch Act’s on-duty prohibition during the hours they are working.
In order to maintain agency operations and employee engagement during the pandemic, many federal employees are now regularly required to participate in videoconferencing. Employees participating in virtual work-related conferences are subject to the same on-duty Hatch Act restrictions as when they attend meetings or communicate in-person with others at work.
This means, for example, employees should not wear a campaign t-shirt or hat while participating in a work-related video conference call, and they should ensure that any partisan materials, like campaign signs or candidate pictures, are not visible to others during the call. These items should also not be visible in profile photos used for identification in work-related videoconferencing.
People were utilizing social media before the pandemic, and now they are embracing it full force to stay connected to their communities, families, friends, coworkers, and employers. The Hatch Act does apply to these social media communications.
Employees who use social media are encouraged to review OSC’s social media guidance to understand what activities are prohibited and permitted at:
For particulars and more in-depth information concerning political activities, review DOD Directive 1344.10 at https://www.esd.whs.mil/Portals/54/Documents/DD/issuances/dodd/134410p.pdf for service members.