Hatch Act Violations: What Do Government Employees Need to Know?

May 4, 2022
Jay Stafford

The Hatch Act prohibits many federal, state, and local government employees from engaging in certain types of political activities. While the ostensible purpose of the Hatch Act is to protect government employees from facing discrimination based on their political affiliation or partisan activities, employees who violate the Hatch Act can face significant penalties (up to and including removal from service). As a result, it is important that all government employees understand the Hatch Act’s provisions—and that they seek experienced legal representation when accused of violating the law.

Which Government Employees are Subject to the Hatch Act?

The Hatch Act applies to all federal civilian executive branch employees, except for the President and Vice President. As the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) explains, “[e]ven part-time employees are covered by the Act, and all employees continue to be covered while on annual leave, sick leave, leave without pay, or furlough.”

As the OSC also explains, the Hatch Act applies to many state and local government employees as well. In addition to restricting employees of federal executive agencies, “[t]he Hatch Act restricts the political activity of individuals principally employed by state, District of Columbia, or local executive agencies and who work in connection with programs financed in whole or in part by federal loans or grants.”

What Political Activities Does the Hatch Act Prohibit?

Different government employees are subject to different prohibitions under the Hatch Act. At the federal level, covered employees will fall into one of two categories: (i) Further Restricted or (ii) Less Restricted.

Further Restricted Federal Employees

Further Restricted employees are generally those who are employed by “intelligence and enforcement-type” agencies. Examples include (but are by no means limited to) the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Federal Election Commission (FEC), National Security Agency (NSA), and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Certain senior executive service (SES) and other high-level federal employees fall into the Further Restricted category as well.

Under the Hatch Act, Further Restricted employees, “may not campaign for or against candidates or otherwise engage in political activity in concert with a political party, a candidate for partisan political office, or a partisan political group.” Some examples of specific prohibitions include:

  • Being a candidate for nomination or election to public office in a partisan election
  • Taking an active part in partisan political campaigns
  • Taking an active part in partisan political management or holding office in a political organization
  • Using official authority to influence or interfere with the results of an election
  • Hosting political fundraisers or collecting contributions
  • Engaging in political activity while on duty, on federal property, or in official uniform

Less Restricted Federal Employees

Any federal employee who is subject to the Hatch Act and who does not qualify as Further Restricted is Less Restricted. As these titles suggest, Less Restricted federal employees are not subject to the same extent of prohibitions as those in the Further Restricted category. Some examples of specific prohibitions for Less Restricted federal employees include:

  • Being a candidate for partisan political office
  • Using official authority to influence or interfere with the results of an election
  • Soliciting, accepting or receiving donations or contributions for a partisan political party or candidate
  • Knowingly soliciting or discouraging participation in political activity by anyone who has business pending before their employing office
  • Engaging in political activity while on duty, on federal property or in official uniform

State and Local Government Employees

At the state and local levels, the Hatch Act prohibits government employees from:

  • Being candidates for public office in a partisan election if their salary is entirely federally funded;
  • Using official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the results of an election or nomination; or
  • Directly or indirectly coercing, attempting to coerce, commanding, or advising another government employee to pay, lend or contribute anything of value to a party, organization, or individual for political purposes.

What Are the Penalties for Violating the Hatch Act?

For federal employees, violating the Hatch Act can have several potential consequences. These include removal from federal service, reduction in grade, debarment from federal employment for up to five years, suspension, reprimand, and a $1,000 civil penalty. For state and federal employees, Hatch Act violations will result in removal unless the employee’s agency forfeits a portion of its federal assistance equal to two years’ worth of the employee’s salary.

Speak with a Lawyer at The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford

If you are facing disciplinary action under the Hatch Act, it is important that you engage an experienced lawyer to represent you. To discuss your case with a lawyer at The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford in confidence, call 410-514-6099 or request an appointment online today.