Hatch Act explained: What is the federal law?

The U.S. Postal Service violated federal law after it allowed its employees to participate in union-funded campaign work for various Democratic candidates while on leave from the agency, a recent Office of Special Counsel report says.

As Fox News reported, the OSC, an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency, found that the USPS “engaged in systemic violations” of the Hatch Act – a federal law that limits what political activities federal employees are allowed to engage and participate in.

Federal employees are allowed to participate in some political work while on leave, but the OSC said USPS showed “bias” in favoring the union’s 2016 campaign operation. The report said USPS workers were allowed to do union-funded campaign work for former presidential contender Hillary Clinton and other Democratic candidates.

Enacted in 1939, the Hatch Act bars federal employees from participating in political activity while on duty, in the workplace or in an official capacity.


The law also includes some state and local government employees who work in connection with federally funded programs, according to the OSC.

“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,” OSC states.

The agency also states that email and social media have made it easier for federal employees to violate the Hatch Act.

While federal employees are allowed to engage in conversations and express opinions on partisan issues or candidates on social media, they are not allowed to do so while on duty or in the workplace. Employees are also not allowed to use their job titles while engaging in such conversations.


Federal employees are also barred from soliciting political contributions at any time – including sharing links to political contribution pages for political candidates or partisan organizations.

Employees are still subjected to the Hatch Act even when using an alias on social media.

The OSC says a federal employee is allowed to receive partisan political emails and is even allowed to forward such an email to a personal account. But a federal employee is not allowed to send such an email – from a personal or government account – to others while at work.

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

Someone who does violate the Hatch Act could be subjected to a fine up to $1,000. The employee could also race other disciplinary actions, ranging from a reprimand to removal from federal service.