This year is an election year for many members of Congress. The increase in political chatter in the media is unavoidable. Many federal workers may be motivated to discuss political issues and candidates while at work, and some may feel moved to actively work for candidates of their choice. If so, they need to be aware restrictions on political activity that apply to federal employees due to the Hatch Act.
Long-time federal employees, who may have experienced prior election cycles and know of the restrictions, should be aware of the changes made to the Hatch Act. Violations of the Hatch Act can result in disciplinary actions ranging from suspensions and pay grade reductions to termination and prohibitions on returning to government work for five years.
The Hatch Act is designed to prevent federal employees from using their government jobs to advance partisan political agendas. It prohibits them from such activities as running for a partisan political office. It also bans fundraising for a political campaign and participating in partisan behavior in their office or workplace.
Given the intense and continuing scrutiny federal agencies face with allegations of partisan activity in the Internal Revenue Service, all federal workers should be very sensitive to even the appearance of political activity while at the office.
While the changes in the Hatch Act allow federal employees more flexibility with some political activities, such as running for office in a district with a high concentration of federal workers, there are still strict limitations on such candidates, and they would have to run as independents.
Employees of the federal government should also be aware that some positions may be even more restricted, and before you engage in any political activity, you should consult the regulations or a legal professional, to ensure you are not subject to disciplinary charges for violating the Hatch Act.
Source: Washington Post, “Final policies on fed-worker political activities affect discipline, other issues,” Eric Yoder, May 5, 2014