Know Your Limitations on Social Media

How can you avoid violating the Hatch Act while you are on the clock? The authors spell out what new guidance from the Office of Special Counsel says about proper use of social media for federal employees while they are at work.

This article is co-authored by Brett O’Brien

The internet is the like the rebirth of the Wild West. It is a place with few rules, where people can be anyone they want to be. For federal employees, however, the sheriff is cracking down.

In the 1800s, people that weren’t satisfied with the hand they were dealt had the opportunity to travel West where they could become anybody, as long as they had the necessary skills and fortitude to play the part. In today’s world, people can do the same thing by just logging onto a computer, creating a persona for themselves that only exists on the web. However, some of that freedom is being stripped away for federal employees, who now have to be wary of supporting politicians on the internet.

This is not an entirely new law, just a clarification on an old one (The Hatch Act) so it is now a little more up to date and straightforward about what federal employees can and cannot do on the internet.

The most clear cut rule is that federal employees cannot engage in any political activity while on the clock. The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) defines political activity as: any activity directed at the success or failure of a political party or partisan political group (collectively referred to as “partisan groups”), or candidate in a partisan race.

This includes posting, commenting, “liking,” “retweeting,” and anything else you can think of on social media. If you have a political logo or something similar in your profile picture, you must refrain from ALL social media activity while on the clock, since your picture will appear next to any activity, thus making it a political statement.

The same goes for emails. You cannot send or forward political emails while are work, unless you are forwarding something to your own personal account. Simply put; if you’re on the clock, no politics.

Now when you’re off the clock, things don’t go back to normal either. While you’re allowed to friend or follow political accounts, as well as share your opinions in comments, likes, or retweets, there are always some limitations federal employees have on them regarding politics on the internet.

Federal employees cannot, at any time, refer to their government title or position while engaging in political activity. That is considered an improper use of official authority. Anytime you are operating in your official capacity, you must remain politically neutral.

Federal employees also cannot accept political contributions, nor can they suggest or ask anyone to make political contribution at any time, even when off the clock. This means that federal employees must refrain from posting or “sharing” the link to a political contribution page or an invitation to a political fundraising event.

This covers pretty much everything about the new online policy that would apply to the average federal employee. (Further Restricted Employees federal employees must comply with additional guidelines). Make sure you double check everything before you post in order to keep up professionalism and to avoid accidentally violating the Hatch Act.

About the Author

Carol Schmidlin, Certified Financial Fiduciary®, MRFC® is the President of Franklin Planning and has been advising clients on how to grow and preserve their wealth for 25 years. In addition to her financial planning practice, she is the founder of FedSavvy® Educational Solutions, which provides Financial and Retirement Literacy Programs for Federal Employees. She is passionate about helping families with all phases of Wealth Management and is a member of Ed Slott’s Master Elite IRA Advisor Group. Her practice maintains a home office in Sewell, NJ along with a satellite office in Washington, DC. Carol can be reached at (856) 401-1101.