Employees in Arkansas have been furious over the past few weeks after learning that the state’s legislature was considering a bill that would require certain workers to give their employers access to personal profiles on social media accounts. Even though lawmakers ultimately decided to scrap the bill in a recent committee hearing, it has opened up a larger debate regarding how closely social media should be connected to the workplace — if at all — and whether the government has the ability to control that connection.
The bill proposal, House Bill 1087, was sponsored primarily by Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena. Arkansas’s current legislation prohibits businesses from requesting to see the social media profile pages of prospective employees, but HB 1087 would have created “exemptions” to this rule for employers who are responsible for child care (primarily institutions such as daycare centers, schools, religious groups, and summer camp organizations).
HB 1087 wouldn’t require that prospective employees provide the business with their personal security information (such as the username and password) for each account on a social media site, but it would allow employers to request that job applicants add the employer as a contact or “friend” on the website, allowing the employer to view the profile page of each applicant.
According to the Washington Post, the bill was passed in the Arkansas House in a 91-1 vote during February, and state lawmakers seemed highly enthusiastic about the proposal. Rep. Bell explained to the Post that HB 1087 wouldn’t allow employers to “access [personal] bedroom information [and we] probably don’t want them accessing the backyard information. But what happens in the front yard is very similar to what happens in the street.”
Ironically, the organizations (and lawyers) that disproved of HB 1087 the most were those representing victims of domestic violence and child abuse; these organizations argued that HB 1087 would allow employers to single out (and perhaps discriminate against) victims of domestic abuse by being able to view the support groups that each individual has joined on a social media site.
Ultimately, the Arkansas Senate committee shot down HB 1087 in a 3-3 vote, falling five votes short of passing through the eight-member committee. Although the intention behind HB 1087 certainly seems harmless, it’s clear that Americans still believe that workers should have control over the personal information they share with employers.