As election season gets into full swing, you have questions about abiding by the Hatch Act in the everyday world.
The use of social media is an area where it can be easy for a federal employee to violate the rule if not careful. Here an attorney from DLA’s Office of General Counsel answers questions about various uses of new media.
Question: If, from my personal Facebook account and using my personal computer, I have “liked” the DLA page and the DoD page along with the page of a candidate for office, have I violated the Hatch Act?
Answer: The Hatch Act does not prohibit federal employees from expressing their opinions about partisan groups, candidates, or offices in a partisan race on social media platforms; however, employees must ensure that they are not on duty or acting in their official capacity when they do so. Employees should also remember that while they may like, share, tweet, and retweet partisan political pages, employees should ensure that they are not suggesting or asking anyone to make political contributions at any time, even in their personal capacity.
Question: If a supervisor has friended or been friended by a direct report on Facebook, is the supervisor then restricted from friending a political campaign website? Would this be seen as an attempt to influence the employee?
Answer: A supervisor is not prohibited from friending a political campaign website in his personal capacity, even if the supervisor is Facebook friends with his or her subordinates. However, the supervisor may not direct political statements directly at subordinates or a subgroup of “friends” that includes subordinates. For example, if a supervisor’s statements about a partisan group or candidate in a partisan race are directed at all of his Facebook friends or Twitter followers, then there is no Hatch Act violation. Such statements would be improper if the supervisor improperly directed the statements toward her subordinate employees, or to a subset of friends that includes subordinate employees.
Question: During my lunch period, am I allowed to retweet a message from a political campaign while in the building?
Answer: No. The Hatch Act prohibits employees from engaging in partisan political activity while on duty or in a federal building. Even though you are on your lunch period, you are still on duty and in a federal building for purposes of the Hatch Act.
Question: What if during my lunch break I go to my car, in the DLA parking lot; while inside my car, am I free to express political views via social media?
Answer: No. As stated above, you may not engage in partisan political activities while on duty or in a federal building. The Office of Special Counsel has interpreted this prohibition to include the green spaces and parking lots surrounding a federal building.
Question: If I am on LinkedIn and have a recommendation from other current DLA employees on my account, am I restricted from connecting with people associated with a political campaign?
Answer: Employees are not prohibited from connecting with people associated with a campaign on Linked In while in their personal capacity.
In the coming weeks, additional Q&A articles will appear on www.dla.mil, covering the Hatch Act as it applies to work email, workplace conversations, office decorations, and activities in the community. In the meantime, further information is available at the website of the Office of Special Counsel.