While government leaders use social media like Twitter and Facebook, where does that leave government employees who also want to use social media to express themselves?
In any professional setting, employees should use social media etiquette. That starts with being polite online at all times just as you would in any “social” setting. Employees in most work settings are expected not to be using social media at work when they should be working. If you decide to use social media on a break, you shouldn’t sign into a personal account on a government device or use your office wi-fi. In addition to not using government resources for personal use, using your device and connection preserves your privacy.
For federal employees, perhaps the best advice is to be very careful about what you say online — especially about your political preferences — and don’t express those opinions online while you are at work, even if it is on your personal social media account.
Federal employees are subject to The Hatch Act, which was enacted in 1939 to limit political activities by federal employees. The Hatch Act is enforced by The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC).
In 2016 the OSC suspended an employee for 50 days for sharing pro-Bernie Sanders posts while criticizing other candidates from both parties.
An employee of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had to resign and will not be allowed to return to work for the federal government for five years. While she was at work, she posted over 100 social media messages in support of Hillary Clinton.
According to Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner, ”This employee thumbed her nose at the law and engaged in vocal partisan politics both with her colleagues and on social media. Considering her knowledge of the Hatch Act and continuing disregard for the law, this employee’s resignation and debarment from federal service are proportionate disciplinary actions.”
It can happen no matter what your politics or position in the federal government. Former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, First Lady communications director Stephanie Grisham, White House director of social media Dan Scavino have also been cited for Hatch Act violations.
The OSC has distributed these guidelines to federal employees:
· Employees may not post, like, share, or retweet a message or comment in support of or opposition to a political party, a candidate in a partisan race, or partisan political group while on duty or in the workplace, even if their social media account is private.
· Employees may not like, follow, or friend the social media account of a political party, candidate in a partisan race, or partisan political group while on duty or in the workplace.
If you are on the job and post political preferences on your personal account, you are in violation.
The starting point for preventing social media from damaging your career is to avoid using social media at work — especially to share any political posts. If you are subject to a background check for a new federal job, your social media is fair game.
Here are some additional precautions to consider when you are using social media.
· Find out if your agency has specific social media restrictions — especially if you are in law enforcement.
· Be sure you make clear your online opinions are yours, and not from the agency where you work.
· Avoid criticizing your agency, boss, or co-workers online.
· If you have a work computer or phone, don’t use it for your personal social media posts.
· Avoid using your own computer or phone for agency business.
· Be careful who you friend online.
· If you express a political opinion online for or against a candidate or group, don’t use your official title in your social media profile or post.
· You can express your opinions to all your online friends or followers while off duty, but don’t send them via a direct message or tweet to fellow employees who are connected to you on social media.
To learn more, the OSC has information on its website about the Hatch Act.
“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 guide 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.”
Article sponsored by Starr Wright USA.
Starr Wright USA is a marketing name for Starr Wright Insurance Agency, Inc. and its affiliate(s). Starr Wright USA is an insurance agency specializing in insurance solutions for federal employees and federal contractors. For more information, visit WrightUSA.com. Starr Wright USA is a division of Starr Insurance Companies, which is a marketing name for the operating insurance and travel assistance companies and subsidiaries of Starr International Company, Inc. and for the investment business of C.V. Starr & Co., Inc.