REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. – With 2020 being an election year, Soldiers and Department of the Army Civilians must remember laws and directives outlining what can and can’t be done when it comes to political support – including what is done online and during telework hours.
Department of the Army Civilians must adhere to the Hatch Act, which is a law intended to assure the public that federal programs are being administered fairly and without the influence of partisan politics.
“It also serves to shield federal employees from partisan political coercion and political influence in personnel decisions,” said Larry Wilde, an ethics counselor at Army Materiel Command. “In large part because of the Hatch Act, personnel decisions are based on merit, not patronage or political affiliation."
In the same manner as the Hatch Act, military members are under the DOD Directive 1344.10, “Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces on Active Duty.” Both help avoid the perception of official DOD sponsorship, approval or endorsement of any partisan political candidate, campaign or cause. While personnel are encouraged to vote, members of the Armed Forces on active duty and civilian government workers while on duty should not engage in partisan political activities.
Many of the rules outlined within the Hatch Act and DODD 1344.10 are straightforward: not mentioning your official position when endorsing a candidate in a partisan election; not wearing a political campaign button to work; not soliciting campaign contributions; etc. What may be considered less straightforward is how the Hatch Act and DODD 1344.10 apply to social media and online communication.
With COVID-19 causing many employees to work from home, it is important to remember these rules still apply.
“Remember that even though you are in your own home, when teleworking you are on duty and may not engage in partisan political activities, even on personal communication devices,” Wilde said. “It is permissible for most employees to engage in political activity from home outside of duty hours, but government furnished equipment may never be used for political activities."
He said it is also important – whether on duty or off duty – not to like, share or retweet a post that solicits political contributions, including invitations to fundraising events. When communicating online, it is important to be aware of what actions violate the Hatch Act and DODD 1344.10.
"In the case of an inadvertent violation on social media, the employee should take steps to correct the violation as quickly as possible, such as by deleting the post or removing the like,” Wilde said. “A minor accidental violation of the Hatch Act is rarely punishable, but employees should still take care to follow the rules."