The North Carolina Senate passed a bill Monday night which allows business owners to sue employees who secretly record audio or video in the workplace. The vote was 32 to 13.
Proponents of House Bill 405 call it the Property Protection Act. Republican Senator Brent Jackson is one of them. "House Bill 405 basically codifies and strengthens our North Carolina case law to better protect property owners," Jackson said on the Senate floor, "It does not create a criminal penalty. It does not monkey, touch or even open our whistleblower laws." That last bit is because of what opponents call the same measure. The Ag-Gag bill.
Animal rights groups argue the bill is specifically targeted at their undercover recordings at, say, poultry and cattle farms. Those recordings have shown some cases of animal mistreatment and health violations at some farms. But the bill as written isn’t limited to agricultural businesses. It applies to all businesses in North Carolina. And any employee who knowingly records audio and/or video at their place of work and disseminates that information can be sued for damages and court costs.
Democratic Senator Josh Stein agreed with some points of the bill. But overall he said, "The public will be worse off as a result of this bill. There will be violations of law that occur that would not have otherwise occurred because of this bill."
In part, that’s due to North Carolina’s whistleblower laws. Stein argued they only apply to the treatment of employees by an employer. "Our whistleblower laws do nothing for an employee who brings forward a violation of the law that affects the general public."
So, said Stein an employee who discovers unsanitary conditions at a meat processing plant, or expired drugs being compounded at a pharmacy would not be covered.
Jackson disagreed saying employees can always turn those recordings over to authorities.
This measure has already been passed by the House. It’s now on its way to the governor’s desk.