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5 Burning Questions: AFDW Staff Judge Advocate

Voter Graphic (U.S Air Force graphic by Airman !st Class Christina Carter)

The Hatch Act applies to federal employees and military members while communicating on duty including when videoconferencing and teleconferencing. (U.S Air Force graphic by Airman 1st Class Christina Carter)

A graphic with the logos for Facebook, Instagram, Flickr and YouTube.

The Hatch Act applies to federal employees and military members while communicating online including on social media platforms. (U.S. Army graphic by Carrie David Campbell)

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. --

In an effort to answer some of your top questions about a variety of subjects, the Air Force District of Washington continues the “5 Burning Questions” series.

In this installment, Laura Battle, AFDW Staff Judge Advocate attorney-advisor, covers the Hatch Act and teleworking.

A presidential election is coming, and many of the force is working from home. Does the Hatch Act apply when I am teleworking?

The Hatch Act and DoD Directive 1344.10 set forth rules for political activities of military members and federal employees. The Hatch Act applies while you are on duty, whether teleworking at home or in a government building. In short, whatever location you are teleworking from, you are on duty during your work hours and may not engage in political activities.

So, when are military personnel and federal employees actually considered on duty?

The Hatch Act’s prohibitions apply during the hours we are working. Simply put, we are on duty when we are in a pay status. We are not on duty when we are on other than paid leave, comp time, using credit hours, on a time off award or on an excused absence including leave without pay. We are not on duty when our workday is over or we have not begun our work. We are on duty whenever we are performing official duties.

What special considerations or steps should we take while videoconferencing, teleconferencing and communicating online while on duty?

The Hatch Act applies to employees who are using these kinds of conferencing applications while on duty. These applications are just another platform for work and are part of the performance of our official duties. The Hatch Act and DoD guidance prohibit “political activity” while on duty. This means that while we are on duty, we may not participate in any activity supporting the success or failure of a political party, a partisan political group, or a candidate for partisan political office. Examples? You should not wear a political t-shirt while participating on duty in a work videoconference. You should not send an email from your government or personal laptop during duty hours supporting a partisan political party or candidate. Similarly, during an on-duty office videoconference, you should not have partisan political signs or materials in the background where they are visible to other participants. Nor should you have partisan political slogans, symbols or t-shirts visible on your profile picture associated with official accounts.

In addition to telework, we are staying connected on social media more than ever. Does the Hatch Act address social media communications as well?

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal agency, interprets the Hatch Act as applicable to social media communications. If you are considering using social media for political activities, it’s wise to review social media guidance so you’re familiar with what kind of activities are prohibited and what are permitted. For example, federal employees cannot knowingly solicit, accept, or receive political contributions for a partisan political race, candidate, or group. Likewise, federal employees may not use their authority to influence or affect the outcome of an election. However, federal employees may use their personal devices while off duty to engage in permitted political activities such as respectfully expressing personal opinions on candidates and issues.

What guidance, instructions or other resources are available that I can use to ensure my team and I are in compliance?

Contact your ethics counselors at AFDW/JA, 240-612-6101.

Review general guidance on Hatch Act applicability at: https://osc.gov/Documents/Hatch Act/Advisory Opinions/Federal/Hatch Act Advisory for Teleworking Employees.pdf.

Review Hatch Act guidance on social media at: https://osc.gov/Documents/Hatch Act/Advisory Opinions/Federal/Social Media Guidance.pdf.

Consult DoD Directive 1344.10, “Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces”.