The US Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal investigative agency, has advised that federal employees may express support for Black Lives Matter (BLM) in the workplace without violating the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activity while on duty or in the federal workplace. The Office of Special Counsel had considered whether using BLM terminology is “inherently political activity” and whether the Black Lives Matter Global Network (BLMGN) is a partisan political group. The agency concluded in an advisory opinion Tuesday that using BLM terminology is “not inherently political activity.” It also concluded that BLMGN is not currently a partisan political group.
The term “Black Lives Matter” was first used following the 2013 death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the police officer responsible for his death. BLM terminology is currently used by many different organizations, such as BLMGN, to raise awareness of and to respond to racism. BLMGN is a non-profit global organization with over 40 chapters worldwide.
The agency reasoned that BLMGN has not been involved with politics, besides encouraging a higher voter turnout with BLMGN supporters in the 2020 election. It does not endorse political candidates, although it previously considered doing so. BLMGN also focuses almost entirely on issue advocacy, with its website including petitions and videos.
Even though BLMGN is “popularly associated more frequently with one political party versus another,” the agency stated that this does not make it a “partisan political party.” The agency concluded that the Hatch Act allows employees to engage in BLM-related activity while at work, but they cannot combine it with “political activity” while at work.
Ultimately, the agency concluded that a federal employee can support or oppose BLM in the workplace without violating the Hatch Act. It did state that this analysis only applied to the Hatch Act.
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