Are you a federal government employee with a Facebook or Twitter account and a passing interest in politics? Be extra careful if you are, as we head into the thick of election season: your government career could be on the line.
Participation in political activities while serving as a federal employee is restricted under the Hatch Act, an old statute that is still very much in force. Violating the Hatch Act is no small matter. It could very easily lead to your dismissal; at minimum, a violation will nab you a 30-day or longer suspension without pay.
What constitutes a political activity is murkier now than in the days when organizing and fund-raising were done entirely offline. With the emergence of Facebook and Twitter, which span the traditional barrier between workplace and home, the application of the Hatch Act has gotten even more intricate. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is trying to keep up. OSC publishes plain language FAQs that explain what you can and cannot do, politically-speaking, as a fed. Their Hatch Act webpage is an important source; read it if you have any doubt about your actions (or those of colleagues).
But let's be frank, here. Despite OSC's best efforts to reduce the legalese, there are still a ton of words to comb through to find the answer to basic questions like, "Can I list my political party affiliation on my Facebook profile?" (Answer: Yes, you can) or "Can I suggest that my friends 'Like' a political candidate on Facebook?" (Answer: No, you can't).
OhMyGov distilled the many pages of social media rules under the Hatch Act into one simple infographic.
Bottom line: If you're a federal employee and you ever post on Facebook or Twitter or have a blog, READ THIS INFOGRAPHIC CAREFULLY.
Elections can bring out the worst in people. Just read the tale in today's Wall Street Journal of a die-hard Democrat who threw out her Republican husband's absentee ballot instead of mailing it in. If you engage in a politically charged conversation --- whether around the watercooler or on Twitter --- you risk creating new enemies or further chafing testy office relationships. Know the rules about what's safe on social media, and you will avoid giving anyone a chance to file a valid Hatch Act complaint and boot YOU out of office.
As always, get legal advice from a knowledgeable attorney if you have any questions. And please, share this with your friends, colleagues, and officemates.