February 11. 2013 8:06PM

Social media, credit report rights for job seekers will be subject of hearing today

New Hampshire Union Leader

CONCORD - Legislation to prohibit employers from demanding that job applicants provide passwords to social media sites is among a series of bills dealing with the rights of job seekers that will be heard by a House committee today.

The House Labor Committee will also take up bills that would bar employers from checking the credit reports of job applicants and a measure that would prohibit discriminating against the unemployed in hiring.

The social media proposal is itself testament to the power of the growing medium. Few can cite specific examples of employers demanding the right to peruse a job applicant's Facebook site, but social media fuel the perception that it is happening.

State Rep. Katherine Rogers, D-Concord, a co-sponsor of the legislation, says she is not aware of widespread violations of privacy through demands for Facebook or Twitter passwords, but fears the perception that it is happening could make it a reality.

"It could be a problem in the future," Rogers said. "I think of this more as forward-thinking, many times the Legislature is reacting, I think this is pro-active."

Two bills have been filed, House Bills 379 and 414, co-sponsored by Rogers and Representatives Peter Sullivan and Timothy Smith, and Sen. Donna Soucy, all Manchester Democrats.

"We already have laws protecting privacy in employment; you can't ask their race or their age or their medical condition," Rogers said. "If you have a Facebook name and password, you could find out some things you wouldn't be able to find out in an interview."

The proposed New Hampshire law does not, however, prohibit employers from using devices such as key stroke recording software to gain password information.

A half-dozen states currently protect employees and would-be employees from being forced to give up their social media passwords.

The committee will also hear testimony on a bill to prohibit the use of credit reports in hiring decisions. Testimony will also be taken on a bill filed by Rep. Peter Copeland, R-Stratham, which would prohibit employers from discriminating against the unemployed in hiring decisions.

"There is an epidemic of older people who have been out of work long-term who are being discriminated against," Copeland said. "Companies are actually saying to people 'you are unemployable.'"

The bill would provide for fines of $5,000 for a first offense and $10,000 for subsequent offenses for any employer who refuses to hire someone solely on account of being unemployed, or who discriminates against the unemployed in conditions of employment. An unemployed person is defined for the law as someone who has actively sought employment in the previous four weeks.

Copeland says the issue of discrimination against the unemployed was first brought to his attention by organized labor though the AFL-CIO. He said he understands that the bill's chances of surviving in its current for are slim.

"I think its important that we are shedding some light on it," Copeland said. He also said the bill is not intended to create any sort of special rights for people who have been out of work.

"I would hope that nobody would see it affiliated with affirmative action, that to me means people unqualified to do that job are given the job based on another reason," Copeland said. "I'm not in favor of that."

The proposal to bar discrimination against the unemployed is House Bill 350.