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Ethics Division

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Ethics at a Glance

Political Activities

Outside Activities

Gifts Between Employees


Political Activities:
What Can I Do?

Generally, as a result of the 1993 amendments to the Hatch Act, Federal employees may participate in political management or political campaign activities The basic "Do's" and "Don'ts" are:


  • May be candidate for public office in nonpartisan elections
  • May register and vote as you choose
  • May contribute money to political organizations and candidates
  • May speak at a political gathering even a fundraiser
  • May assist in voter registration drives
  • May attend and be active at political rallies and meetings
  • May stuff envelopes for a campaign
  • May join and be an active member of a political party or club
  • May sign nominating petitions
  • May campaign for or against referendum questions, constitutional amendments, municipal ordinances
  • May campaign for or against candidates in partisan elections
  • May distribute campaign literature in partisan elections
  • May hold office in political clubs or parties


  • May not be candidate for public office in partisan elections
  • May not use official authority or influence to interfere with an election
  • May not use official title in political activities
  • May not collect political contributions unless both individuals are members of the same Federal labor organization or employee organization and the one solicited is not a subordinate employee
  • May not solicit or receive political contributions from the general public
  • May not knowingly solicit or discourage the political activity of any person who has business before the Department
  • May not wear political buttons while on duty or in a Government building
  • May not engage in political activity while on duty
  • May not engage in political activity in any Government office
  • May not engage in political activity while using Government vehicle
  • May not engage in political activity while wearing an official insignia

* Italized prohibitions do not apply to employees who are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.


Under the Hatch Act, unless otherwise noted, career and non-career employees are treated the same. However, these guidelines do not apply to career SES employees or administrative law judges whose political activities are more restricted. Any additional restrictions on non-career employees would be by Department policy. Check with the Special Assistant/White House Liaison in the Office of the Secretary.

ETHICS AT A GLANCE provides general guidance. For specific information call the Ethics Division at (202) 401-8309. Published by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of the General Counsel

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Outside Activities

Most employees may earn outside income and engage in outside activities, subject only to the Federal conflict of interest statutes and the Standards of Ethical Conduct. Generally, employees may engage in any activities - paid or volunteer - as long as the activities do not require the employee to disqualify him or herself from duties central to his or her position within the Department. In addition, although complicated by a recent court decision and subject to an exception for teaching certain courses - in most circumstances, employees may not accept pay (including travel reimbursement) for teaching speaking, or writing related to the employee's duties.

Employees must obtain approval prior to:

  1. providing services, other than clerical, on behalf of any other person in connection with a matter in which the United States is a party or has a direct and substantial interest, or when the provision of services involves the preparation of materials for submission to, or representation before, a Federal court or executive branch agency;
  2. serving as an officer, director, trustee, general partner, agent, attorney, consultant, contractor, employee, advisory committee member, or active participant for a prohibited source; or
  3. teaching, speaking, writing, or consulting that relates to the employee's official duties;
  4. An exception permits employees to engage in many volunteer activities without obtaining prior approval, such as participating in:
  5. a social, fraternal, civic, or political entity,

    a religious organization that is not a prohibited source; or

    a PTA or similar organization at the employee's child's school or day care center, other than as a member of the Board of Directors or other governing board of the school or center; or<

    volunteering to tutor or provide direct social or medical services.

Under what circumstances would the Department deny my request to work part-time for an outside organization?

Denials are rare, but they do happen. For example, an employee sought approval to work part-time for a non-profit grantee of the Department. The employee's duties included monitoring the performance of the grantee, and her supervisor indicated that it was impossible to assign this project to a co-worker. The employee would be barred by law from doing her Department job if she took this part-time position. Therefore, the Department denied her request.

How can I tell whether a proposed outside activity is "related to my duties?"

The definition includes, among other things:

  1. activities undertaken as part of your official duties;
  2. offers extended to you because of your official position, and not because of your expertise;
  3. offers extended to you by a person or group that has interests that may be affected substantially by the performance of your duties;
  4. matters dealing in significant part with any matter to which you are currently assigned or have been assigned within the past year; or
  5. matters dealing in significant part with any ongoing policy, program, or operation of the Department.

Why do I have to get approval before serving on the Board of Directors of my child's school?

In most, if not all, cases approval will be granted. However, because criminal conflict of interest statutes restrict some activities of Federal employees, the approval process gives the Ethics Office an opportunity to give you advice about these restrictions. For example, as a Federal employee, you may not represent the school before a Federal agency (the Internal Revenue Service, for example). Further, even though you are not paid to serve on this Board, it would be a violation of a criminal law for you to participate in a particular matter at the Department that has a direct and predictable effect upon the financial interests of the school. Thus, absent a waiver, you are required to disqualify yourself from both general policy and specific party matters that involve the school or affect its financial interests.

Where can I obtain a copy of the outside activity request form?

You may get a copy of the form from your Executive Officer or the Ethics Division.

ETHICS AT A GLANCE provides general guidance. For specific information call the Ethics Division at (202) 401-8309. Published by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of the General Counsel.

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Gifts Between Employees

The Standards of Ethical Conduct limit gifts between employees, particularly gifts to supervisors. The general rule is: an employee may not give - or make a donation toward - a gift for his or her supervisor. An employee's supervisor includes the employee's immediate supervisor as well as any other employees who direct or evaluate the employee's performance or the performance of any of the employee's supervisory superiors.

There are three basic exceptions to this rule:

  1. Employees may give - or voluntarily "chip in" for - food or refreshments to be shared in the office;
  2. An employee may give a gift to his or her supervisor on an occasional basis including recurring events when gifts are traditionally exchanged, such as birthdays and holidays, as long as the gift is not cash, and is worth $10 or less. Employees may not "chip in" to buy a group gift for these events; and
  3. An employee may give a supervisor a gift appropriate to the occasion for special, infrequent events, such as the birth of a child or marriage, and for occasions that end the supervisory relationship, such as retirement or reassignment. For these events, employees may "chip in" to buy a group gift as long as the individual contributions are a nominal amount and entirely voluntary.

May I, as a supervisor, collect money from my staff to have an office baby shower for another employee on my staff?

The purpose of these rules is to protect employees from feeling coerced into giving gifts, while permitting some limited, voluntary social exchange between employees. Thus, supervisors may not solicit gifts from those they supervise - even if the gift is for another employee (and certainly not for themselves or another supervisor). Someone on your staff will have to take the initiative to hold this event. Of course, you may, on your own, give your employee a baby gift.

Our supervisor's birthday is coming up; what can we do to celebrate this event?

Employees may bring - or collect voluntary contributions to buy - a cake and other refreshments to share in the office for a birthday party. It is not permissible, however, for the staff to collect money and "chip in" together to buy a birthday gift, although employees individually may give the supervisor a gift valued at $10 or less. Similarly, because a group gift is impermissible for this type of recurring event, it is not proper for the group to take the supervisor to a restaurant for lunch.

Our supervisor's husband has been very ill, and was recently hospitalized; may the staff send him flowers?

An employee may directly or indirectly give a gift to a supervisor on special, infrequent occasions, such as a major illness. For these types of events, a group of employees may voluntarily "chip-in" nominal money contributions (e.g., less than $10) to purchase the flower arrangement, or an employee may send flowers on his or her own.

I travel at least once a month in my job; may I bring my supervisor an inexpensive souvenir from each of these trips?

Gifts between employees and supervisors are permitted on an occasional basis, including occasions when gifts are traditionally exchanged. This is much too frequent to be considered occasional.

I'm in charge of collecting money for a retirement gift for our office's supervisor; may I tell eveyone on the staff that they should contribute $4 each for this gift?

Contributions must be voluntary. Thus, although an amount may be recommended, the recommendation must also indicate that employees are free to contribute less or nothing at all.

ETHICS AT A GLANCE provides general guidance. For specific information call the Ethics Division at (202) 401-8309. Published by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of the General Counsel.

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Last Modified: 08/30/2022