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With elections looming, recall rules of federal employee conduct

Working for the federal government comes with some benefits that private employment does not. It also comes with some drawbacks. As we noted in a previous post, federal workers in Texas or anywhere else can easily find themselves facing disciplinary action for something that most other Americans take for granted – expressing opinions about politics.

This is all courtesy of the Hatch Act. Passed in 1939, the Hatch Act seeks to insulate federal programs from partisan politicking during elections by outlining what government workers can and cannot do.

We are in one of the most contentious political election in recent memory. The White House is up for grabs, as are many seats in Congress. Both major parties show signs of internal division. Some who might usually stand on the sidelines could well feel drawn to activism. That's all well and good, but if you are a federal employee, you need to know there are limits to what you can do.

Certainly, every American has a right to his or her political views and free speech means they can express them. But, as material from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) makes clear, there are curbs on those rights for federal workers.

For example, if you are on the job – including if you happen to be telecommuting – you are prohibited from engaging in any political activity. If you happen to be among the ranks of law enforcement or the various intelligence branches of government, you may well fall into the category of being "further restricted" from political activity through social media or email.

  • You may express an opinion about a party or candidate, but only outside of working hours.
  • You can identify yourself in your social network profile by your position, but you can't refer to your position in any political posting you might do.
  • Soliciting donations through electronic media is forbidden. You can't even like, share, tweet or retweet a link that leads users to solicitations.

If you have any doubts about whether what you are doing or planning to do politically is OK, you can check out the OSC website. If you face employment discipline for activity you believe to be legitimate, you should consult an experienced attorney about how best to protect your rights.

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