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Federal Employment Law
How Does Social Media Use Impact Federal Employment

There’s no denying that social media has transformed the way we connect with loved ones and keep up with current events today.

Many Americans don’t think twice about how and when they engage with social media sites—it’s just part of their daily routine.

However, federal employees can’t be so cavalier. For government workers, sharing certain information or engaging in specific behaviors online can lead to severe professional and even legal consequences. 

This blog post will offer an overview of the federal government’s social media policy for employees. We’ll discuss the major rules around social media use and how to protect yourself and your job in your online activity. 

What Are the Rules Around Social Media and Government Employees?

For the most part, federal employees are allowed to use social media and other popular digital platforms to some degree. However, your actions online may face more scrutiny than those of a private sector worker.

Several federal laws and regulations oversee how government employees behave online. These rules apply to activity on numerous public-facing digital platforms, including:

  • Social networks like Facebook, X, TikTok, Instagram, and LinkedIn;
  • Picture and video-sharing sites like YouTube and Shutterfly;
  • Digital marketplaces like eBay and Etsy; and
  • Any news and media sites where users can share comments.

Let’s examine two major rules impacting federal employees’ use of social media. 

Office of Government Ethics (OGE) Standards of Conduct

All federal government employees must follow the OGE’s Standards of Ethical Conduct. This document outlines the general expectations for principled behavior in and outside working hours. The Standards of Ethical Conduct don’t mention social media usage specifically.

However, they do explicitly forbid government employees from using their public position or office for private gain, including by:

  • Disclosing confidential information publicly to advance your personal interests,
  • Using government property for unauthorized purposes, and
  • Spending official time on non-work-related duties.

In the context of social media use, this gives us a couple of important guidelines. 

First, don’t share any non-public information you learn on the job online. Keeping personal and classified government information quiet is essential for safeguarding national security and your job security.

Next, it’s important to remember that your work computer isn’t meant for personal use—neither is the time you’re on the clock. Scrolling Facebook from an employer-provided electronic device risks becoming an inappropriate use of government property and time. 

The Hatch Act

The Hatch Act regulates how employees use social media as a platform for expressing partisan preferences or engaging in political activity. Under the Hatch Act, most federal employees are prohibited from the following behaviors on social media:

  • Engaging in any political activities while on work duty or in the workplace. This includes posting, reacting to, or sharing partisan messages or comments on social media accounts. Liking and following political candidates is also off-limits during work hours as the law requires you to save these activities for when you’re off the clock.
  • Soliciting or receiving contributions for a political party, candidate, or group even when not at work. Even on their own time, federal employees can’t post a Facebook status encouraging their friends to donate $10 to a partisan Senate race. You’re also not allowed to like or share any messages like these, including posts inviting people to fundraising events. 
  • Using their official position or authority to influence an election even when not at work. An example could be using an official agency’s social media account to post or promote messages about political parties or partisan groups. On a personal level, this also means not using your official employee title when writing online political content.

Some employees who work in certain specialized roles or at certain federal agencies have even more rules about what they can and cannot say online. For a complete picture of the social media policy for employees in your position, consult with your HR department or a federal employment lawyer.

How Does Social Media Impact Employment?

Improper or unlawful use of social media can have serious repercussions in your professional life. As a federal employee, you are a representative of the government to some extent.

Many regulations around employee social media use aim to clearly distinguish between your personal opinions, statements, and endorsements and those of your agency or federal employer.

Other rules are based on certain standards of ethics and impartiality expected of all federal employees. Employees who disregard these guidelines for legal and ethical social media use can face:

  • Disciplinary actions like suspensions, demotions, and even termination;
  • Loss of security clearance; and
  • Legal charges and potential fines and imprisonment. 

For this reason, we recommend several basic guidelines for social media and employees in federal roles. For one, think before you share anything online. To be safe, it’s often best to avoid mentioning political topics or your job in your public social media posts.

Take time to learn about additional policies or regulations that could apply to your role. Most importantly, if confronted about social-media-related misconduct, contact a federal employment lawyer immediately. 

Experienced Legal Advocates Trusted by Federal Employees 

Federal employees are often intimidated by the complex regulations around government employees’ social media use. If you have questions about what specific standards apply to your role, a trained advocate with the Federal Employment Law Firm of Aaron D. Wersing can help. Headed by award-winning federal attorney Aaron D. Wersing, our firm has spent years counseling government workers on various employment disputes. To learn how we can help you, contact our office online or by phone.  

Author Photo

Aaron Wersing, Attorney at Law

Aaron Wersing is the founder of the Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing. Mr. Wersing graduated from the Georgia State University College of Law with a Doctorate in Jurisprudence and was the recipient of the CALI Excellence for the Future Award. Mr. Wersing previously attended the University of Georgia, where he received a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Accounting. Mr. Wersing is an active member of his local community. Mr. Wersing acts as a volunteer attorney with Houston Volunteer Lawyers, the pro bono legal aid organization of the Houston Bar Association. He is also a member of professional legal organizations such as the National Employment Lawyers Association and the American Inns of Court. To reach Aaron for a consultation, please call him at (833) 833-3529.

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