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.