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Legal Insider: Federal Employment and Politics Don’t Mix

This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By John V. Berry, Esq.

The elections in 2020 are quickly approaching. Our law firm often represents and defends federal employees for potential Hatch Act violations in the federal workplace.

The Hatch Act was meant to limit the partisan political involvement of federal employees. Hatch Act political activity restrictions apply during the entire period of an employee’s federal service. There are certain rules that prohibit both on-duty and off-duty political conduct. As the 2020 elections start to come closer, this article is meant to help federal employees avoid the pitfalls of committing potential Hatch Act violations.

What is the Hatch Act?

The Hatch Act of 1939 prohibits certain types of political participation by federal employees. For example, federal employees may not seek public office in partisan elections, use their official titles or authority when engaging in political activity, solicit or receive contributions for partisan political candidates or groups, and/or engage in political activity while on duty.

Even though the word “partisan” is used other types of non-partisan elections where the candidate is backed by a particular party can also cause a federal employee potential Hatch Act violations.

Enforcement of Hatch Act Violations

For most federal employees, the Hatch Act is enforced by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). The OSC has the ability to seek disciplinary action against federal employees if violations are found. Federal employees can potentially be disciplined or terminated for violations of the Hatch Act.

Generally, the OSC will first conduct an investigation and then if violations are found may then seek to negotiate a resolution. In other cases, the OSC may file a disciplinary action with the Merit Systems Protection Board against the employee and ask an administrative judge to take action against the federal employee for a violation.

Hatch Act Tips for Federal Employees

Here are some quick tips for avoiding Hatch Act violations in the federal workplace:

  • Avoid discussion of partisan politics using government email
  • To the extent possible, avoid partisan political discussions while at work or while performing work
  • Don’t try to raise money for partisan political candidates in the workplace (even passing along links for partisan candidates to co-workers)
  • Don’t post political discussions during work hours on social media
  • Don’t donate to a political campaign during work hours
  • Don’t bring political campaign signs or buttons into the federal workplace
  • Don’t run for office in a partisan political election

Federal employees can often still participate in political activities, but doing so at work can be a violation of the Hatch Act.

For further information on potential Hatch Act violations, please see the information offered by the OSC. While it is doubtful that brief discussions about politics in the federal workplace would trigger an OSC investigation, the potential risk is there. The safest course for federal employees is to simply avoid partisan politics in the workplace and save them for off-duty.

Conclusion

If you need assistance with federal employment law issues, please contact our office at (703) 668-0070 or at www.berrylegal.com to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BerryBerryPllc.

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