April 21 - Bill Could Add Worker Protections

This Article Appeared in the E-Ticker News April 21, 2014

NH House Happenings

By Rep. John Cloutier

Bills Could Add Worker Protections

Granite State workers could get some added legal protections, if two bills just passed by New Hampshireʼs House of Representatives become law.

The two bills include an amended version of Senate Bill 295, which would prohibit employers from using credit history in employment decisions, legislation that was approved on April 17. Also given preliminary approval on April 17 was Senate Bill 390, which would prohibit discrimination against employees who are victims of domestic violence. 

Senate Bill 295ʼs amended version was adopted on a 192-142 roll call vote after a brief debate on the House floor which followed a positive Ought to Pass as Amended recommendation from a majority of the House Labor, Industrial, & Rehabilitative Services Committee. A positive recommendation written on the Labor Committeeʼs behalf by Georges Mills Rep. Linda Tanner.

Rep. Tanner wrote in her positive recommendation that the amended bill would protect employees from unnecessary credit history checks as a condition of obtaining a new job from an employer or getting a job promotion from the same employer. She stated, though, that the legislation does allow employers in certain instances to check employeesʼ credit history, if such history is “substantially related” to the employeeʼs current or potential new job. Also, she said that the amended Senate Bill 295 is similar to House Bill 1405, which the House had approved earlier this year, and sent to the Senate. But she added that Senate Bill 295ʼs original version was not as strong as House Bill 1405 because it had expanded an employerʼs ability to use credit history in some hiring decisions.

Nevertheless, Senate Bill 295 opponents like Hampton Rep. Tracy Emerick declared that the measure as amended would contradict federal law. More specifically, Rep. Emerick, who wrote the Labor Committeeʼs minority negative recommendation of Inexpedient to Legislate, stated that the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act does allow the use of employeesʼ credit histories when making hiring decisions. He added that businesses, especially small businesses, should be permitted to use such credit checks in order to protect their livelihoods.

Senate Bill 295 as amended by the House now returns to the Senate, which could make one of three choices regarding the amended bill. First, it could vote to concur, or simply agree to the Houseʼs amendment. Second, it could vote to non-concur and ask for a joint committee of conference, which would attempt to work out a compromise version with the House. Third, it could vote to non-concur with Houseʼs amendment and not ask for a committee of conference, an action which would result in automatic defeat for Senate Bill 295. 

Senate Bill 295ʼs prime sponsor is Manchester Sen. Donna Soucy, and Hanover Sen. David Pierce, who is Claremontʼs state senator, is a co-sponsor. 

For readersʼ information, I did vote for the amended version of Senate Bill 295. In principle, I believe that employers should be highly restricted in being allowed to check credit history as a part of hiring new workers, or promoting current workers. The only exceptions would involve positions for which the employees would be handling large amounts of money with much daily supervision. Frankly, what does an individualʼs credit history have to do with being a competent mechanic, carpenter, nurse, or teacher, among other jobs? Even if the federal government were to later declare that such credit history protection laws were unconstitutional, having many states adopt such protection laws might lead to more effective protection legislation at the federal level.

As for Senate Bill 390, it was adopted by a 186-153 roll call vote after fierce debate on the House floor which again followed a positive Ought to Pass recommendation by a majority of the House Labor Committee. A bill which not only would prohibit employers from not hiring individuals just because they are domestic violence victims, but also victims of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and stalking. Additionally, it would prohibit employers from firing, demoting, or suspending, or refusing to promote individuals just because they are victims of the earlier-listed crimes. Finally, under the bill any employers found violating the earlier-described prohibitions would be subject to civil penalties to be imposed by the New Hampshire Labor Commissioner.

Senate Bill 390 proponents led by Lebanon Rep. Andrew White, who is also the Labor Committee Chair, declared that victims of domestic violence, sexual harassment and assault, as well as stalking, often have enough problems to deal with because of the crimes committed against them. He added that they should not have the added burdens of not getting hired for a new job, as well as being demoted, suspended, or even fired for being the victims of the earlier-listed crimes.

However, Senate Bill 390 opponents led by Milford Rep. Gary Daniels, claimed that the legislation is “another instance of the legislature dictating to employers who they must hire, and then controlling the employment practices under which these employees can be discharged or disciplined.” Rep. Daniels added that the bill could open the door to more “frivolous” allegations by employees against employers in the courts. 

Senate Bill 390 now proceeds to the House Criminal Justice & Public Safety Committee for further review of its civil penalties provision, and a second vote by the full House by May 15. The billʼs prime sponsor is Laconia Sen. Andrew Hosmer, and Sen. Pierce is again a co-sponsor. 

I did vote for Senate Bill 390. I believe that victims of domestic violence, stalking, as well as sexual assault and harassment often have enough other problems with which to be concerned. They should not also have to worry about obtaining a new job, or keeping their present job.

Email: jocloutier@comcast.net