Federal employees working remotely “are still subject to the Hatch Act’s on-duty restrictions,” the Office of Special Counsel has said, and should be careful regarding what they post on social media and what they wear on videoconferences while in work status.
The reminder comes as large numbers of federal employees who previously had teleworked only rarely if ever—and may be unfamiliar with all of the policies involved—are continuing to work from home.
The Hatch Act applies when an employee is “on duty” or “representing the agency in an official capacity” and “employees maintaining a regular work schedule while teleworking have the same on-duty status as if they were reporting to their regular duty stations. Therefore, they are subject to the Hatch Act’s on-duty prohibition during the hours they are working.”
Employees who work irregular hours are considered on duty any time they are performing official duties, it adds, and “therefore, employees wishing to engage in political activity by, for example, posting their views about a candidate on social media or making political donations, must ensure that they are not on duty when engaging in such activities.”
The restrictions also apply when on a work-related video call in the same way as for in-person meetings or communications, and employees for example “should not wear a campaign t-shirt or hat while participating in a work-related video conference call, and they should ensure that any partisan materials, like campaign signs or candidate pictures, are not visible to others during the call.”
Further, for teleconferencing programs and email applications that allow individuals to add a profile picture visible to others, employees “may not use candidate images, campaign slogans, or political party symbols for profile pictures associated with official accounts or when communicating on official matters.”
The OSC also recommended that given the increase in social media use in a socially distant environment, employees should familiarize themselves with its guidance on Hatch Act implications, which is at osc.gov/Services/Pages/HatchAct-FAQ.aspx.
More on Federal Government Ethics Policies at ask.FEDweek.com