Federal Employees Are Warned Not to Discuss Trump ‘Resistance’ at Work

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Speaking in support of or against the “resistance” to President Trump in a federal workplace would probably be illegal, according to an independent government agency.CreditCreditMichael Reynolds/EPA, via Shutterstock

 

WASHINGTON — At workplaces across the United States, it is routine for Americans’ conversations to turn to President Trump — whether his policies are good, whether he should be impeached, what to think about the “resistance.” Some drink from MAGA mugs; others tape cartoons to their cubicle walls portraying Mr. Trump as a Russian quisling.

But roughly two million people who work for the federal government have now been told that it may be illegal for them to participate in such discussions at work — a pronouncement that legal specialists say breaks new ground, and that some criticized as going too far.

Generally, federal employees have been free to express opinions about policies and legislative activity at work as long as they do not advocate voting for or against particular candidates in partisan elections. But in a guidance document distributed on Wednesday, the independent agency that enforces the Hatch Act, a law that bars federal employees from taking part in partisan political campaigns at work or in an official capacity, warned that making or displaying statements at work about impeaching or resisting Mr. Trump is likely to amount to illegal political activity.

[Read the new Hatch Act guidance.]

 

The guidance was issued by the Office of Special Counsel, an independent agency that enforces the Hatch Act, including by investigating complaints of improper political activity and recommending discipline — like a reprimand or firing — for violators. The agency also enforces the Hatch Act against state and local government officials whose salaries come from federal grants.

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USPS Employees reminded of Hatch Act rules

Political button on shirt

USPS News Link – 7/26/18 – USPS wants employees to follow the Hatch Act’s rules on politicking in the workplace.

The Hatch Act is a law that prohibits Postal Service and other federal employees from engaging in political activity while on duty, while wearing a uniform, while on federal property or while inside a federal vehicle.

These rules apply to activities on behalf of all political candidates, including sitting U.S. presidents and other incumbents who have officially declared their intent to seek re-election.

For example, under the Hatch Act, a postal employee cannot wear a shirt or campaign button that promotes any candidate seeking re-election while the employee is on USPS property or on the clock.

Similarly, postal employees cannot place a bumper sticker or sign promoting a political candidate on a USPS vehicle.

Employees who misuse government property or don’t uphold safety regulations could be disciplined. Additionally, the Postal Service could refer potential Hatch Act violations to the Office of Special Counsel for investigation.

USPS is conducting a campaign to educate employees on the Hatch Act and provide examples of colleagues who have run afoul of the law.

These examples include employees who placed political signs in a delivery vehicle, wrote “corrections” on political mailpieces, made political posts to social media while on the clock and broadcast political endorsements while sitting in a postal vehicle.

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OSC Issues Hatch Act Social Media Guidance, Announces Postal Worker Hatch Act Violation Over Social Media Use at Work

Posted on February 14, 2018 by postal
OSC Issues Hatch Act Social Media Guidance in User-friendly Format, Announces Postal Service Employee Hatch Act Violation
CONTACT: Jill Gerber, (202) 804‐7065,jgerber@osc.gov

WASHINGTON, D.C./Feb. 13, 2018 – The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) today issued Hatch Act social media guidance for federal employees in a clear, easy‐to‐understand format with real world examples and a new quick reference tool. OSC also announced a 50‐day suspension without pay of a U.S. Postal Service (USPS) employee for partisan political Facebook postings while on duty, conduct that occurred shortly after the employee received Hatch Act training.
“This office routinely receives questions from federal employees and the public about when social media use violates the Hatch Act,” Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner said. “With social media so accessible, employees want to know what political activity they can and can’t engage in on Facebook, Twitter, and other sites and stay clearly within the law. OSC’s new user‐friendly guidance will help employees understand their obligations at a glance. It’s designed to improve compliance with the law. If employees know their legal obligations and still violate the law, OSC will bring cases accordingly, but first, employees have to be well‐informed of their Hatch Act restrictions.”
OSC issued two documents today:“Hatch Act Guidance on Social Media” and the “SocialMedia Quick Guide.”The longer document in an easy‐to‐use format includes a number of real world examples to illustrate how social media and the Hatch Act intersect.
Here’s an example quoted in the guidance: “You stay at work during your lunch break and check Facebook on your personal cell phone. A Facebook friend posted a message about an upcoming event supporting a candidate in a partisan race. Even if you are not in a pay status during your lunch break, you may not like or share that post while you are in the workplace.”
The “Social Media Quick Guide” is the first of its kind from OSC. This quick reference tool has a checklist for allowed and disallowed social media activity for all federal employees and those who are further restricted from actively participating in partisan political management or campaigns under the Hatch Act.
In addition to the new materials, OSC’swebsitehas comprehensive information on Hatch Act restrictions. OSC also is available by phone and email to answer questions and help federal employees adhere to the Hatch Act.
The recently settled USPS case, which resulted in a 50‐day suspension, illustrates prohibited social media activity.
Between March and July 2016, an employee made at least 116 partisan political Facebook postings while on duty. Nearly all of the employee’s actions were in the form of a “share” posting from pro‐Bernie Sanders, anti‐Hillary Clinton, or anti‐Donald Trump Facebook accounts. The employee’s Facebook postings requested that followers vote for Bernie Sanders; disseminated the political platform and campaign promises of Bernie Sanders; requested that followers contact their super delegates and bring pressure to bear in favor of Bernie Sanders; and generally disparaged the candidates opposing Bernie Sanders.
The employee also wore in and out of work for at least a week a USPS‐logoed cardigan sweater with a Bernie Sanders campaign sticker on it. While at work, the employee draped the cardigan with the sticker on the back of a work chair, where it was visible to others.
USPS had provided the employee with information and training about the Hatch Act prior to these violations. In particular, the employee’s supervisor had conducted a mandatory “Standup Talk” just three months before the violations began, which included information about the Hatch Act and social media use.
OSC educates the federal workforce about and pursues penalties for violations of the Hatch Act. The federal law, passed in 1939, limits certain political activities of federal employees, as well as some state, Washington, D.C., and local government employees who work in connection with federally funded programs. The law’s purposes are to ensure that federal programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion, to protect federal employees from political coercion in the workplace, and to ensure that federal employees are advanced based on merit and not based on political affiliation.

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