Federal employees found to have violated the Hatch Act’s prohibition on political activities could be subject to demotions, a five-year ban on federal employment, reprimand or even a $1,000 fine, according to a final rule published May 5 in the Federal Register.
Until now, the only sanction has been automatic firing, unless the three-member Merit Systems Protection Board unanimously agreed to impose a 30-day unpaid suspension. As a result, agencies were sometimes reluctant to pursue minor infractions.
The Office of Personnel Management’s proposed changes are designed to implement the framework laid out in the Hatch Act Modernization Act, which Congress approved in 2012 in part to give the board more flexibility.
Federal employees in a small number of areas—Virginia, Maryland or Washington, D.C. or where a majority of voters are federal employees—may engage in limited political activities at the discretion of the Office of Personnel Management.
The final rule also loosens restrictions on state and local employees who jobs are funded in part by federal funds, while those whose jobs are funded entirely by federal funds still face restrictions on political activities.