How a Federal Employee Can Destroy a Career

An employee of ICE has resigned as a result of political activity that led to a Hatch Act violation.

The Hatch Act and Your Federal Career

Any federal employee should be aware of the Hatch Act and restrictions it places on political activity. Some federal employees are aware of the restrictions but choose to ignore them and pursue their political passions.

In some of these cases, the employees appeared more concerned about influencing voters instead of helping members of the public using federal government services. Using the opportunity to expound their political views from their position as a federal employee can result in adverse or disciplinary action, including ending a federal career.

ICE Employee Resigns after Violating the Hatch Act

A recent case involves an employee with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

This employee admitted to posting more than 100 social media messages in support of the Democrats’ presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. The messages were posted while the employee was on duty or at work. She also admitted to, while at work, telling coworkers to vote for Hillary Clinton and inviting them to attend a campaign rally.

According to Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner:

This employee thumbed her nose at the law and engaged in vocal partisan politics both with her colleagues and on social media. Considering her knowledge of the Hatch Act and continuing disregard for the law, this employee’s resignation and debarment from federal service are proportionate disciplinary actions. This case serves as an important reminder that federal employees must be mindful of the Hatch Act’s prohibitions, especially given the upcoming midterm elections.

The employee signed a settlement agreement under which she will resign and not return to federal service for five years.

About the Hatch Act

The Hatch Act was passed in 1939 and modified in 1993 by removing the prohibition on participation in “political management or political campaigns.” There have been further modifications in the Hatch Act, and the Office of Personnel Management issued a new rule in 2014 implementing the most recent changes. (See Hatch Act Modifications Reflected in New OPM Rule) Generally, the changes implemented since it was passed in 1939 have weakened the original restrictions.

Federal employees are generally insulated from much of the political pressure that may be applied to employees working for a local government. While this is an advantage of being a federal employee, the restrictions of the Hatch Act are the trade-off for this insulation from political pressure that is more likely to be a problem in local government organizations.

Guidance for Using Social Media as a Federal Employee

For those who are inclined to enter the murky waters of political activity as a federal employee, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) has issued guidance that generally all federal employees may use social media without violating the Hatch Act if they remember three prohibitions:

  1. On Duty or in the Workplace Prohibition – Employees may not engage in political activity while on duty or in the federal workplace.
  2. 24/7 Prohibition – Employees may not knowingly solicit, accept, or receive a political contribution for a political party, candidate in a partisan race, or partisan political group.
  3. 24/7 Prohibition – Employees may not use their official authority or influence to affect the outcome of an election.

As we approach mid-term elections this November in what has been a very divisive and extremely contentious political environment over the past few years, federal employees should consider the possible consequences of their actions before deciding to enthusiastically leap into the fray.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47