How to avoid Hatch Act hassles

Thursday - 10/21/2010, 9:41am EDT

Debra Roth, attorney, Shaw Bransford & Roth

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

It's election season, and it didn't take long for some federal employees to run afoul of the violations of the Hatch Act.

Already, at least two federal employees have been reprimanded by the Merit Systems Protection Board.

One was fired, one suspended for 120 days, because they sent political, fund-raising e-mails to fellow employees.

Debra Roth, partner at Shaw Bransford and Roth told Federal News Radio there are only a few really basic rules to remember, but they can be tricky.

  • The Hatch Act applies only to the federal Executive Branch - The other two branches are excluded.

  • It applies to every federal Executive Branch employee except the President or Vice President, and, said Roth,

  • "While you're on duty, you can not do anything related to a partisan election" - No campaigning, no raising of money, no wearing of t-shirts or buttons that advocates any candidate. "The smallest, slightest exception," said Roth, "is the bumper of your car."

It should be noted, said Roth, that for federal employees "who are in intelligence agencies or law enforcement agencies, for example at the FBI, you have further restrictions off duty than the rest of the federal Executive Branch."

Web 1.0 & 2.0

Action was taken against both employees in the most recent rulings because they had forwarded political e-mails while on duty in the federal workplace.

While the 1939 Hatch Act obviously doesn't mention e-mail or Facebook, it still prohibits federal employees from soliciting, accepting, or receiving political contributions while on duty or in a government workspace.

When it comes to social media, Roth said it "got more lenient and liberal, in my opinion, treatment by the Office of Special Council than what we call web 1.0: e-mail."

If you're taking a political stance on Facebook, said Roth, because you're not directly targeting your co-workers "they seem to allow that."

Much like a lawn sign or a bumper sticker, most federal employees can take political stands outside the workplace. "When you wear it into the workplace," said Roth, "that's where the law draws the line."

Roth recommends that intelligence and law enforcement personnel and any federal employee with a question start with the OSC's Hatch Act website for answers.