The Arkansas House approved a bill on Wednesday intended to prohibit people who receive unemployment benefits from avoiding job interviews.
House Bill 1197, by Rep. Kendon Underwood, R-Cave Springs, passed on a vote of 84-10. The measure will move to the Senate for further consideration.
While presenting his bill, Underwood said an increasing number of people who receive unemployment benefits across the nation are "ghosting" employers, or not showing up for interviews after responding to job postings.
Underwood noted that current Arkansas law requires claimants of unemployment benefits to look for work to continue being eligible for weekly benefits. State officials under certain conditions may suspend benefits if a person fails to seek work or turns down a job offer from an employer.
Under Underwood's bill, a prospective employer may notify the state Division of Workforce Services if a person fails to appear for a scheduled job interview. If state officials determine a person has failed "without good cause" to appear for a scheduled job interview on at least two occasions, the bill would allow the director of the division to disqualify the person from a week of benefits.
"Today one of the biggest obstacles for economic growth for businesses in Arkansas is access to ready and willing workers," Underwood said. "If you aren't going to make an effort that week to find a job and respond to an offer, you don't get the benefits for that week."
Underwood said he had worked with the state Division of Workforce Services on the bill. The division and the Arkansas State Chamber support the measure, he said.
Rep. Tippi McCullough, D-Little Rock, asked if the bill would address legitimate reasons for a person missing a job interview, including car or phone trouble.
"People, especially if they're struggling, often have these types of problems that come up," she said.
Underwood pointed to a provision that would keep the bill from applying to claimants who notify employers of the need to reschedule or cancel interviews. He noted the division would have to verify any claims of "ghosting" submitted by employers.
The bill passed the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee in a voice vote Tuesday.
During the meeting, Rep. Fred Allen, D-Little Rock, asked Underwood for evidence to support the claim that "ghosting" was becoming more common.
While Underwood didn't have current statistics available to prove the trend, he said he knew there were "recurring instances of people who consistently don't show up for interviews when they schedule them" based on conversations with employers and the Arkansas State Chamber.
Underwood also pointed to a 2018 article published by USA Today which said a growing number of people were "ghosting their jobs."
Underwood said he believed the problem had worsened during the coronavirus pandemic.
Charisse Childers, director of the state Division of Workforce Services, said her agency already has an online form employers may use to notify the state if a person doesn't appear for an interview. State officials can use the form to determine if the person is receiving unemployment benefits. Childers said her agency follows up with the job seeker and the employer when verifying claims.
An earlier version of Underwood's bill would have required employers to report cases of claimants failing to show up for job interviews. Under the amended bill approved by the House, employers have the option to report these cases.