Election Season and Hatch Act Don't Mix

By on August 30, 2012 in News

The Hatch Act is designed to prevent corruption in politics and to protect federal employees from political influence. It restricts federal employees from any political participation in the workplace.

According to federal employment law firm Tully Rinckey PLLC, the number of Hatch Act complaints received by the Office of Special Counsel has surged in the last decade. In FY 2011, it received 451 new Hatch Act complaints, a 144% increase over the number in FY 2001. The number of warning letters issued by the OSC was up 178% in the same time period from 59 to 164.

OSC announced two violations by two separate employees in the past month. A technology specialist at the Social Security Administration will serve a 180-day suspension without pay after he recruited and enlisted coworkers, organized and advised on campaign events, and even asked people to contribute to a 2010 gubernatorial candidate’s campaign. In another instance, a contracting officer for the General Services Administration will serve a 30-day suspension without pay for using company resources to invite co-workers to a political fundraiser.

The default penalty for a Hatch Act violation is termination. The Merit Systems Protection Board can issue a 30 day suspension, but a unanimous Board vote is required for this alternative, lighter punishment.

Speaking on the two recent violations reported by OSC, John P. Mahoney, partner and chair of the Labor and Employment Law Practice Group at Tully Rinckey PLLC said, “While these suspensions are certainly severe, federal employees need to be aware that a Hatch Act violation is a terminable offense. Federal employees must keep this law on their radar because all it takes is an e-mail or a few words for a Hatch Act violation to occur. Federal careers that spanned years or decades are ruined in seconds.”

Mahoney also reminded federal employees that there is no expectation of privacy at work, and this includes e-mails and telephone calls. The distribution of fliers, posters, and advertisements, as well as wearing political pins, are all banned from the federal workplace.

For some federal employees, Hatch Act violations can extend beyond the office. Federal employees classified as a “Further Restricted Employee,” including law enforcement, intelligence, or even an administrative judge, are banned from all participation, regardless of the time and place. This can include activities on their own time or in their own homes.

© 2016 Ian Smith. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Ian Smith.

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About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He enjoys writing about current topics that affect the federal workforce. Ian also has a background in web development and does the technical work for the FedSmith.com web site and its sibling sites.

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  1. Phil says:

    Can you put political bumper stickers on your car, which is parked at a government office?

  2. GiGe says:

    Does this apply to political jokes too?? Just wondering.

  3. whitelight56 says:

    How can they enforce this out of work? Do they have a Facebook police and a Twitter swat team to catch Feds who shill for a politician on work time? 

  4. notworking says:

    This isn’t a difficult concept keep your electioneering at home

  5. Jbonetwo says:

    I think that all politicians should get ZERO dollars from us taxpayers when they are out campaigning. Afterall, we pay them to supposedly work on our behalf, not campaign for job continuance.

    • retiredforaliving says:

      I agree and feds playing on the internet, taking cooking classes shoud have their pay docked as well 

  6. OnlyAnnie says:

    The important element here is ” participation in the workplace.” You are perfectly free to support your candidate on your own time, you just can’t use government resources to send out materials or perform campaign duties while at your government job. At campaign events you cannot put yourself forward as an official government representative in support of the candidate or suggest that your government agency is support the candidate. I think some federal workers think the Hatch Act prevents them from being involved in campaigns at all, which is not true.

  7. Fred Wells says:

    Fred Wells
    Congress  who makes the laws federal employees enforce, used to understand and respect federal employees and their work and sacrifices that they and their families make.  Today the congress seems to target these same employees. 

  8. Management Attorney says:

    There have been many partisan comments made in this forum.  I have to think many were made during work time and on government computers. 

    • soonbgone says:

      Correct, and the OSC under the Bush Administration removed the “water cooler discussion” provision, further restricting federal employees and muddying the waters.

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