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Federal workers: Mixing politics and Twitter could mean trouble

Ever since the Hatch Act of 1939, federal workers have had curbs on the things they can do and say regarding their personal political opinions. In general terms, the law limits the role of nonelected government employees in political campaigns.

The law may be well intentioned. It's easy for the line between government work and politics to blur and the law is meant to ensure government insiders don't have undue influence over the outcomes of elections.

In the days when communication was mostly analog, enforcement of the Hatch Act was fairly clear-cut. The law does allow government workers to have lawn signs and campaign for or against candidates. And, of course, they can vote.

But these digital days, social media rules as a means of sharing information and this wasn't even dreamed of when the Hatch Act was passed. And so it is that the Office of Special Counsel, has issued rules about what workers can and cannot do politically with the new technologies. Failure to follow them could result in action requiring the protection of worker rights.

What you can do

Under the guidance issued earlier this month, the OSC clarifies that workers can feature the campaign logos and photos of candidates as part of their profiles in personal accounts they have on Twitter or Facebook. Within certain limits, you may also post, share or like on social media platforms. But if you cross the lines the OSC has established, it could get dicey.

What you can't do

For example, federal workers are not allowed to engage in any political activity on social media while they are on the clock. If you happen to be on a break or eating lunch, you might be able to tweet, retweet, like or whatever, but you first have to leave the building.

If you happen to be an intelligence or law enforcement employee, you are more restricted. A like or a comment about a candidate can be made, but only when you are not on the job. No sharing or retweeting of political material is allowed.

The American Civil Liberties Union is critical of the guidance. It calls some of the distinctions irrational. Be that as it may, the rules are in place and could pose a threat to employee rights.

Source: The Washington Post, "No tweeting what you actually think about Clinton or Carson if you’re on the clock: new rules for feds," Lisa Rein, Nov. 13, 2015

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