Government affairs

Letter carriers and the Hatch Act

NALC encourages all members to be engaged in a wide range of political activities to advance the letter carrier agenda.

But…it is crucial to remember that all active letter carriers, career and non-career alike, are federal employees, and your political activities are governed by the Hatch Act—including online activities that involve social media (for example, Facebook and Twitter) as well as e-mail.

In general: Be off the clock, out of uniform (and government vehicles) and away from the workplace whenever you engage in any partisan political activity, and make sure that the activity is in a permissible category.

If you have questions or concerns that are not covered here, do not hesitate to first contact the Office of Special Counsel by e-mail at hatchact@osc.gov or by phone at 800-85-HATCH.

What is the Hatch Act? Some background.

Until 1993, active letter carriers were barred from taking any significant volunteer role for any political campaigns. The primary sentiment behind the law was to protect federal employees from being strong-armed and intimidated into helping their bosses run for re-election. But as times and campaigns changed, many recognized that federal employees were being wrongfully left out of the political process.

So, in 1993, Congress amended the Hatch Act to allow federal employees to take an active part in political campaigns for federal offices. While there are still some restrictions on what federal employees (including you and your fellow active carriers) can do, there is much greater latitude for letter carrier political participation in campaigns for president, the Senate and the House of Representatives, as well as for state and local elected officials.

Remember: Retirees, spouses and family members (including NALC Auxiliary members) are not bound by the Hatch Act.

If you have questions regarding the Hatch Act, contact the Office of Special Counsel by e-mail at hatchact@osc.gov or by phone at 800-85-HATCH.

Do’s (while off the clock, out of uniform)

Active letter carriers may—on their own time, away from work, out of uniform and without using a postal vehicle:

  • Be candidates for public office in non-partisan elections (that is, elections in which none of the candidates are to be nominated or elected are representing a political party).
  • Register and vote.
  • Sign and circulate candidate nominating petitions and ballot initiative positions.
  • Assist in voter-registration drives.
  • Speak and write publicly and otherwise express opinions about candidates, ballot measures and issues.
  • Attend political rallies, meetings and other events.
  • Attend fundraisers and contribute money to political organizations and campaigns.
  • Volunteer for political campaigns and encourage others to volunteer.
  • Participate in phone-banking and precinct-walking for candidates and ballot measures.
  • Display bumper stickers, lawn signs and other campaign paraphernalia.
  • Raise money for the Letter Carrier Political Fund from other NALC members. (Note: Letter carriers while detailed to 204b or other higher level assignments should not solicit contributions to the Letter Carrier Political Fund from postal employees who may be viewed as their subordinates.)
  • Volunteer, run for and hold an office in a local or state political party or club.

Don’ts (while on the clock, at the workplace, in uniform or in a postal vehicle)

Active letter carriers may not—while on the clock, at the workplace, in a postal uniform or in a postal vehicle—engage in any of the otherwise permissible political activities listed in the “Do’s” above. For example, while on the clock, at the workplace, in a postal uniform or in a postal vehicle, you may not:

  • Send or forward a partisan political e-mail.
  • Wear or display any political or campaign material, even as a computer screen-saver or desktop wallpaper.
  • Circulate partisan political materials to co-workers.
  • Sign up electronically to contribute to the Letter Carrier Political Fund or solicit other letter carriers to contribute.

Don’ts (ever)

Active letter carriers may not—even on their own time, away from work, out of uniform and without using a postal vehicle:

  • Use their official titles or positions when engaging in otherwise permissible activities.
  • Raise money for partisan political groups or campaigns (except for the Letter Carrier Political Fund), including phone-banking, letter-writing, selling tickets, hosting a fundraiser, inviting people to attend a fundraiser, or allowing your name to be used in a fundraising appeal.
  • Otherwise solicit, receive or handle contributions for a partisan political group or campaign.
  • Run for elective office in partisan (party-label) elections (even if you report “No Party Affiliation”).
  • Raise money for the Letter Carrier Political Fund from non-NALC members (except from their immediate family members in the same household).

Online (general guidelines for social media and e-mail)

Abridged excerpt from “The Hatch Act: Frequently Asked Questions on Federal Employees and the Use of Social Media and Email (November 2015).” Click here to read the full document.

In general, all federal employees may use social media and email and comply with the Hatch Act if they remember the following guidelines:

  1. Do not engage in political activity while on duty or in the workplace. (Federal employees are “on duty” when they are in a pay status, other than paid leave, or are representing the government in an official capacity.)
  2. Do not engage in political activity in an official capacity at any time.
  3. Do not solicit or receive political contributions at any time. (This does NOT include contributions to the Letter Carrier Political Fund solicited from fellow NALC members while off the clock.)

“Political activity” refers to any activity directed at the success or failure of a political party or partisan political group (collectively referred to as “partisan groups”), or candidate in a partisan race.

These rules have some very limited exceptions. When in doubt, federal employees should consult OSC or their agency ethics officers.

The following sections are not comprehensive, but should answer many of the most commonly asked questions regarding the Hatch Act and the use of social media and e-mail. Please note that although the following refers to Facebook and Twitter, the advice provided is applicable to any social media platform. If federal employees have further questions, they should email OSC at hatchact@osc.gov.

Social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)—FAQ

Abridged excerpt from “The Hatch Act: Frequently Asked Questions on Federal Employees and the Use of Social Media and Email (November 2015).” Click here to read the full document.

Please note that although the following refers to Facebook and Twitter, the advice provided is applicable to any social media platform.

Q: May a federal employee engage in political activity on Facebook or Twitter?

A: Yes, federal employees may express their opinions about a partisan group or candidate in a partisan race (e.g., post, “like,” “share,” “tweet,” “retweet”), but there are a few limitations. Specifically, the Hatch Act prohibits employees from:

  • engaging in any political activity via Facebook or Twitter while on duty or in the workplace;
  • referring to their official titles or positions while engaged in political activity at any time (note that inclusion of an employee’s official title or position on one’s social media profile, without more, is not an improper use of official authority); and
  • suggesting or asking anyone to make political contributions at any time. Thus, they should neither provide links to the political contribution page of any partisan group or candidate in a partisan race nor “like,” “share,” or “retweet” a solicitation from one of those entities, including an invitation to a political fundraising event. An employee, however, may accept an invitation to a political fundraising event from such entities via Facebook or Twitter.

Q: May a federal employee use a Facebook or Twitter account in his official capacity to engage in political activity?

A: No. Any social media account created in a federal employee’s official capacity should be limited to official business matters and remain politically neutral. Any political activity must be confined to the employee’s personal Facebook or Twitter account, subject to the limitations described in other related questions.

Q: May a federal employee become a “friend,” “like,” or “follow” the social media page of a partisan group or candidate in a partisan race?

A: Yes, but not while on duty or in the workplace.

Q: May a federal employee use an alias to “friend,” “like,” or “follow” the social media page of a partisan group or candidate in a partisan race?

A: Yes, but be advised that federal employees remain subject to the Hatch Act even when they act under an alias. Therefore, the advice provided in response to other questions applies regardless of whether or not the employee is acting under an alias.

Q: May a federal employee continue to “friend,” “like,” or “follow” an official social media page of a government official after he has become a candidate for reelection?

A: Yes. For example, a federal employee may continue to “friend,” “like,” or “follow” the official Facebook, Twitter, or other social media page of the President or Member of Congress, even after the President or Member begins his reelection campaign.

Q: What should a federal employee do if an individual posts or “tweets” a message soliciting political contributions to a partisan group or candidate in a partisan race, or a link to the political contribution page for such entities, on the employee’s social media page?

A: Although the Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from soliciting or receiving political contributions at any time, employees are not responsible for the statements of third parties, even when they appear on their social media page. Thus, if an individual posts a link to the political contribution page of a partisan group or candidate in a partisan race, or otherwise solicits political contributions, the employee need not take any action. The same advice applies to any “tweets” directed at the employee. However, the employee should not “like,” “share,” or “retweet” the solicitation, or respond in any way that would tend to encourage other readers to contribute.

Q: If a federal employee has listed his official title or position on Facebook, may he also complete the “political views” field?

A: Yes. Simply identifying one’s political party affiliation on a social media profile, which also contains one’s official title or position, without more, is not an improper use of official authority.

Q: May a federal employee display a political party or campaign logo or candidate photograph as her cover or header photo on Facebook or Twitter?

A: Yes, federal employees may display a political party or campaign logo or candidate photograph as their cover or header photo on their personal Facebook or Twitter accounts. This display, usually featured at the top of one’s social media profile, without more, is not improper political activity.

Q: May a federal employee display a political party or campaign logo or a candidate photograph as his profile picture on Facebook or Twitter?

A: Yes, but subject to the following limitations. Because a profile picture accompanies most actions on social media, a federal employee would not be permitted, while on duty or in the workplace, to post, “share,” “tweet,” or “retweet” any items on Facebook or Twitter, because each such action would show their support for a partisan group or candidate in a partisan race, even if the content of the action is not about those entities.

E-mail—FAQ

Abridged excerpt from “The Hatch Act: Frequently Asked Questions on Federal Employees and the Use of Social Media and Email (November 2015).” Click here to read the full document.

Q: What is a partisan political email?

A: A partisan political email is an email that is directed at the success or failure of a partisan group or candidate in a partisan race.

Q: May a federal employee—while on duty or in the workplace—receive a partisan political email?

A: Yes. Simply receiving a partisan political email while at work, whether to a personal or government email account, without more, does not violate the Hatch Act. However, federal employees must not send or forward partisan political emails to others while on duty or in the workplace.

Q: May a federal employee—while on duty or in the workplace—forward a partisan political email from her government email account to her personal email account?

A: Yes. If a federal employee receives a partisan political email in his government email account, she may send that email to her personal email account while at work. Simply forwarding such an email to one’s personal email account, without more, does not violate the Hatch Act.

Q: May a federal employee—while on duty or in the workplace—send or forward a partisan political email from his government email account or his personal email account to others?

A: No. A federal employee cannot send or forward a partisan political email from either his government email account or his personal email account (even using a personal device) while at work.

Q: May a federal employee—while on duty or in the workplace—send or forward an email about currents events or matters of public interest to others?

A: The Hatch Act does not prohibit federal employees from engaging in non-partisan political activities. Accordingly, employees may express their opinions about current events and matters of public interest at work so long as their actions are not considered political activity. For example, employees are free to express their views and take action as individual citizens on such questions as referendum matters, changes in municipal ordinances, constitutional amendments, pending legislation or other matters of public interest, like issues involving highways, schools, housing, and taxes. Of course, employees should be mindful of their agencies’ computer use policies prior to sending or forwarding any non-work related emails.

Q: May a federal employee send or forward an email invitation to a political fundraising event to others?

A: No. The Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from soliciting or receiving political contributions, which includes inviting individuals to political fundraising events, at any time.

Endorsing candidates

A union’s endorsement of a candidate can be announced at the candidate’s appearance at a restricted class event, and the news media can be invited to cover that event. A union can also communicate its endorsement to its members through any of its usual means, such as e-mail, mail, phone and meetings. A union can publicly announce its endorsement (and rationale for that endorsement) on its website and to regular press contacts. But a public endorsement cannot be coordinated with a candidate or his campaign.

Voter registration and “get out the vote”

NALC and other unions can conduct voter registration and "get out the vote" (GOTV) efforts asking that members, staff and their families register for a particular political party or vote for particular candidates, and can use general treasury funds for these activities.

Also, a union can distribute to anyone voter information produced by official election administrators—sample ballots, absentee ballot applications and register-by-mail materials.


For more information

If you have any questions, feel free to contact NALC’s Government Affairs Department or the Hatch Act unit of the Office of Special Counsel.

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