Hatch Act restricts political activities, even while teleworking

By Scott Sturko, Fort McCoy Public AffairsJune 8, 2020

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With the increase in home-based telework, due to recent events and upcoming elections, Defense Department employees may have questions about allowable political activity.

The Hatch Act and DoD policy govern the political activities of DoD civilians. Political activity is defined as an activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group.

Teleworking away from the traditional office setting does fall under the “while on duty” restriction. From whatever location you are teleworking, that site constitutes your place of duty for that work day. If you are teleworking from home, you are on duty and may not engage in political activities in your home while you are on duty, even if you are on a personal device like a home computer or personal cell phone.

Employees participating in virtual, work-related conferences are subject to the same on-duty Hatch Act restrictions as when they attend meetings or communicate in person with others at work. For example, employees should not wear a campaign T-shirt or hat while participating in a work-related video conference call, and should ensure that any partisan materials, like campaign signs or candidate pictures, are not visible to others during the call.

Additionally, some teleconferencing programs and email applications allow individuals to add a profile picture, which is visible to others. Employees using email or other conferencing programs for work purposes may not use the profile pictures associated with these platforms to show support for or opposition to a political party, partisan political group, or candidate for partisan political office.

After the end of a workday, employees cannot use government computers or government mobile phones to engage in partisan political activity. For example, employees may not send or forward political material or messages using their government laptop or government mobile phone after completing a day of telework.

While teleworking, employees can use their government computers or government mobile phones to post a comment on a professional association’s online discussion forum or an online news article about a current policy or a proposed policy change. Commenting about a current policy or proposed policy change is not considered political activity, and therefore, is not restricted by the Hatch Act.

Federal employees must still be mindful of using official time for official purposes and of DoD computer-use policies and ensure they do not use or make any reference to their official position or title when expressing personal opinions.

This article originally ran in the Belvoir Eagle on June 3, 2020.