Restrictions for Federal Employees on Social Media Use for Political Purposes

A new Washington Post article highlights a new frequently asked question (FAQ) document from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, the federal agency responsible for enforcing the Hatch Act. The FAQ discusses Hatch-Act restrictions on the use of politically-oriented social media during work.

The FAQ document notes that a “like,” “share,” “tweet,” “retweet” may violate the Hatch Act when it contains a partisan political message or references a candidate for partisan political office.

The FAQ advises that anyone wanting to like, share, tweet, or retweet an article, link, or other message using Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or other social media must do it when they are off the clock and outside the federal building. That means it must be before or after work or during your lunch break. Doing it on break time may not protect you as you're still being paid during breaks.

The FAQ also notes that the Hatch Act prohibits employees from:

  • engaging in any political activity via Facebook or Twitter while on duty or in the workplace;
  • referring to their official titles or positions while engaged in political activity at any time (note that inclusion of an employee’s official title or position on one’s social media profile, without more, is not an improper use of official authority); and
  • suggesting or asking anyone to make political contributions at any time. Thus, they should neither provide links to the political contribution page of any partisan group or candidate in a partisan race nor “like,” “share,” or “retweet” a solicitation from one of those entities, including an invitation to a political fundraising event. An employee, however, may accept an invitation to a political fundraising event from such entities via Facebook or Twitter.

The document is worth reading to refresh yourself on the restrictions we operate under during this campaign season. Remember, the Hatch Act carries with it criminal penalties, for which it will be difficult, if not impossible for the Union to protect you from.