Little Rock, Arkansas – Arkansas House Rep. Mark Lowery has introduced a bill that would protect employers engaged in fraudulent, abusive and illegal practices. HB1774 would make it illegal to record any “oral communications” if the recording party is in an employment relationship with the other party, unless all parties have granted consent.
This would stifle the ability of employees who are victims of harassment or forced to work in unsafe conditions, or those who uncover fraudulent activity that the state of Arkansas has sought to protect with its existing Whistleblower Protection Act. Brought to committee the same day it was introduced, this bill is on the fast track in the Arkansas House.
Last Chance for Animals (LCA), an animal advocacy group that routinely investigates cruelty cases, has launched a campaign to stop the anti-whistleblower bill from becoming law. The website, EndAgGagLaws.com, provides more information as well as a petition aimed at Arkansas Representative Matthew Shepherd, chair of the House Committee on Judiciary, which will be voting on the bill.
“Prohibiting employees from recording their conversations enables injustice to go undetected,” said Zeynep Graves, investigative legal council at LCA. “Individuals are most vulnerable in the employment setting when they have information of, or are a victim of, unlawful activity. Criminalizing the recording of conversations without the consent of all parties will stifle one of the most useful ways of gathering information, making it increasingly difficult for employees to give evidence of unlawful conduct.
Arkansas’ top employers have been involved in cases that threatened the safety of workers and violated federal regulations:
In 2005, Walmart settled with the Federal Labor Department after it was found to have violated child labor laws and had children operating hazardous equipment
In 2001, Tyson Foods was charged by federal authorities with smuggling undocumented workers into the United States
Walmart also settled a discrimination lawsuit amidst accusations that it harassed and gave poor evaluation scores to an employee because she refused to shred documents relating to the investigation of Tom Coughlin, a former vice chairman convicted of fraud
Not far from Rep. Lowery’s own home, an LCA informant working at the kennels of C. C. Baird, a notorious Class B Dealer who sold stolen dogs, exposed a world of neglect and extreme abuse. The findings, documented in the HBO special “Dealing Dogs,” helped shut down the operation and allowed authorities to charge Baird with conspiracy to launder money. Had HB1774 been in effect, these charges would not have been possible.
The House is accepting public comments at this time, and LCA urges the residents of Arkansas to speak out to stop passage of this bill, which the organization deems unconstitutional and a violation of First Amendment rights. LCA feels that stripping away employees’ resources for gathering evidence of workplace violations will allow illegal activity to go undocumented.