Ethics Reminders for Teleworking Employees

READ: Message from Chief of Staff Todd Willens, Ethics Reminder During COVID-19 Pandemic


Currently many employees of the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) are teleworking from home, some for the first time.  The Departmental Ethics Office would like to remind you to keep in mind that ethics laws and regulations continue to apply while you are teleworking, including the rules related to use of government equipment and resources, engaging in political activity, and outside activities. 

Here are some quick reminders:

You must use official time in an honest effort to perform official duties.

While you are on the clock you may not engage in outside activities such as other employment or volunteering for a non-profit.  It also means you may not engage in personal activities such as managing your stock portfolio or conducting business activities. 

Subject to policies on limited personal use, you may only use government equipment and resources for authorized purposes.

Although you may use Government computers and the internet for limited personal use on your personal time (before and after work; during lunch and other breaks) provided there is no additional cost to the Government, you should generally use your personal computer for your personal business.  Remember, the same rules apply as if you were in your physical Government office – never use your Government computer or other equipment to engage in prohibited activities or to visit inappropriate websites.

You may use DOI cell phones for personal calls only to the extent that such calls would be authorized on a DOI landline telephone and so long as no additional costs are imposed on the Government.  Personal phone calls may not adversely affect the performance of official duties or the employee's work performance, must be of reasonable duration and frequency, and could not reasonably have been made during non-duty hours.

When you are teleworking (and even if you are using your personal computer or smartphone to telework), you are still subject to the prohibitions of the Hatch Act and may not engage in partisan political activity while you are on duty.

The Hatch Act prohibits DOI employees from, among other things, engaging in political activity while they are on duty. Political activity is defined as activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, partisan political group, or candidate for partisan political office.

In order to maintain agency operations and employee engagement, many DOI employees are now regularly participating in videoconferencing, using platforms such as Skype, MS Teams, or Zoom. When you participate in virtual work-related conferences, you are subject to the same Hatch Act on-duty restrictions as when you attend meetings or communicate in person with others at work. Thus, for example, you should not wear a campaign t-shirt or hat while participating in a work-related video conference call, and you should ensure that any partisan materials, like campaign signs or candidate pictures, are not visible to others during the call.

In addition, some teleconferencing programs and email applications allow individuals to add a profile picture, which is visible to others. When you are using email or other conferencing programs for work purposes, you may not use the profile pictures associated with these platforms to show support for or opposition to a political party, partisan political group, or candidate for partisan political office. For example, you may not use candidate images, campaign slogans, or political party symbols for profile pictures associated with official accounts or when communicating on official matters.

If you are teleworking and use your home computer to forward an email with campaign material to others, it would constitute a violation of the Hatch Act. Likewise, if you were to post partisan political comments to a blog while teleworking or solicit political contributions on a social media site at any time, those actions would also violate the Hatch Act.

If you would like to engage in outside employment with a prohibited source, please remember to consult with an ethics official.

Please reach out to your ethics official if you have questions about the guidance above or other ethics rules. You can contact the Departmental Ethics Office or reach out to ethics officials servicing your bureau or office directly.

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