Hatch Act restricts federal employees’ political activity on social media 

By DLA Public Affairs

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Defense Department guidance encourages military and civilian employees to vote and also be mindful of the long-standing tradition prohibiting political activity in the workplace.

The Hatch Act of 1939 limits certain political activities of federal employees who work in connection with federally funded programs. The law’s purposes are to ensure federal programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion, to protect federal employees from political coercion in the workplace, and to ensure federal employees are advanced based on merit rather than political affiliation.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel routinely receives questions about Hatch Act violations and social media. In general, all federal employees may use social media and comply with the Hatch Act if they remember the following prohibitions:

  • Employees may not engage in political activity while on duty or in the federal workplace.
  • Employees may not knowingly solicit, accept or receive a political contribution for a political party, candidate in a partisan race or partisan political group.
  • Employees may not use their official authority or influence to affect election outcomes. 
     

Some employees, such as members of the senior executive service, are considered “further restricted” under the Hatch Act. In addition to the above prohibitions, further restricted employees may not take an active part in partisan political management or campaigning.

These rules regarding social media apply to employees on duty or in the workplace:

  • Employees may not post, like, share, or retweet a message or comment in support of or in opposition to a political party, candidate or group even if their social media account is private.
  • Employees may not like, follow or friend the social media account of a political party, candidate or group.
  • Employees may continue to follow, be friends with or like the official social media accounts of government officials after those officials become candidates for reelection.
  • Employees may not use an alias on social media to engage in any activity that is directed at the success or failure of a political party, candidate or group.
  • Employees may display a political party or current campaign logo or the photograph of a candidate in a partisan race as a profile picture on personal Facebook or Twitter accounts. However, they may not post, share, tweet or retweet those accounts while on duty or in the workplace.
  • Employees may display a political party or campaign logo or photograph of a candidate in a partisan race as a cover or header photograph on their personal Twitter or Facebook accounts.
     

Social media rules for soliciting, accepting and receiving political contributions when not on duty or in the workplace include:

  • Employees may not post, like, share, tweet, or retweet a message that solicits political contributions or invites people to a fundraising event.
  • Employees may not accept invitations to or mark themselves as “attending” a fundraising event on social media.
  • Employees may not use an alias on social media to solicit political contributions.
     

Social media rules for not using official authority or influence to affect election outcomes include:

  • Employees may include their official titles or positions and where they work in their social media profiles, even if they also include their political affiliation or otherwise use their account to engage in political activity.
  • Employees may not use their official titles or positions when posting messages directed at the success or failure of a political party, candidate or group.
  • Employees may not use a social media account designated for official purposes to post or share messages directed at the success or failure of a political party, candidate or group. All such official media accounts should remain politically neutral.
  • Employees may not engage in political activity on a personal social media account if they are using such accounts for official purposes or posting in their official capacities.
  • Supervisors and subordinates may be friends or follow one another on social media platforms. However, supervisors may not send to subordinates or a subset of friends that includes subordinates any message directed at the success or failure of a political party, candidate or group.
     

These rules also apply to further restricted employees even if they’re not on duty or in the workplace:

  • Further restricted employees may not share or retweet posts from, or the page of, a political party, candidate or group.
  • Further restricted employees may not link to campaign or other partisan material of a political party, candidate or group.
  • Further restricted employees may not post to or like the social media accounts or messages of a political party, candidate or group.
  • Further restricted employees not on duty or in the workplace may engage in political activity on social media provided it’s not done in concert with or on behalf of a political party, candidate or group.
     

More information on the Hatch Act is available on DLA’s website.