'Catastrophic' consequences | TikTok ban bill passed by U.S. house - What could it mean for employees and HR?

TikTok ban bill passed by U.S. house - What could it mean for employees and HR?

The House of Representatives have passed a bill that proposes to ban TikTok in the U.S. with myriad implications for employers and employees.

The legislation passed on a bipartisan 352-65 vote, after a 50-0 vote from the House Energy and Commerce Committee last week in support of the bill. It must also move through the Senate, where its future is less certain.

However, President Biden says if the bipartisan bill reaches his desk, he will sign it into law.

It appears that a ban on TikTok, which has over 170 million U.S. users, is now a realistic possibility.

If signed into law, the legislation would require TikTok's parent company ByteDance to sell the platform within six months, or else face a ban from U.S. app stores and web hosting platforms.

A spokesperson for TikTok says: “This legislation has a predetermined outcome: a total ban of TikTok in the United States. The government is attempting to strip 170 million Americans of their Constitutional right to free expression. This will damage millions of businesses, deny artists an audience and destroy the livelihoods of countless creators across the country.”

The lawmakers behind the bill claim that “applications like TikTok that are controlled by foreign adversaries pose an unacceptable risk to US national security,” citing concerns that given TikTok’s Chinese ownership, user data may be at risk.

Those who oppose the bill are unsure there is enough proof that TikTok poses a national security threat, and echo concerns from TikTok about the impact on U.S. businesses. “It's been steamrolled and people really can't digest the consequences," says Democratic Representative Maxwell Frost. "I would like to see TikTok ownership changed, but not at the expense of our First Amendment rights, business owners and content creators.”

What might some of these consequences be, and will they be at the expense of businesses and employees?

What a TikTok ban could mean for employees and HR

First and foremost, TikTok employs around 7,000 people in the U.S. Any ban or sale would most likely signal the end of their employment, or if a change of ownership did occur, a very unstable future.

This bill is the latest bump in the road in a long period of uncertainty for TikTok employees after former President Trump ordered a ban on TikTok in August 2020 which was subsequently overturned in federal court.

If the bill is passed, it would leave business and HR leaders at TikTok with the monumental task of appropriately handling the future of its workforce, including issues such as pay. In 2020, a TikTok employee successfully raised over $30,000 to fund a possible court order demanding TikTok still be allowed to pay its employees if the ban was implemented.

There is also a much wider potential impact on employment and the labor market across America. In March 2024, when the bill was announced, TikTok told the BBC the legislation would “deprive 5 million small businesses of a platform they rely on to grow and create jobs.”

Speaking to ABC News, Matt Navarra, a social media industry analyst, says a ban would pose an imminent threat to businesses that rely on TikTok to reach customers: "For some small businesses and creators, the consequences will be catastrophic," Navarra explains.

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Moreover, countless large employers like Duolingo, Pepsi, and DoorDash allocate huge amounts of marketing spend and resources to TikTok, including dedicated teams and employees working on their company’s TikTok page.

A TikTok ban would block the way millions of companies run their marketing and drive sales, presenting a tough situation for HR and workforce planning teams.

Some employers might reallocate employees to teams working on other channels, or retrain workers. Navarra adds that "a large number of users and eyeballs and attention would be gifted to rival platforms" like Meta-owned Instagram and Google-owned YouTube, which may open the door for alternative career paths or sources of business income.

But there is no guarantee of successful transition, and others might decide to scrap teams altogether or face the sad reality of closing their doors.

As the bill makes its way through Congress, employees working on social media teams, or for businesses that depend on TikTok, are dealing with anxiety and uncertainty about their future.

If the ban becomes a reality, for HR leaders, there would be no easy answers about how to manage the complicated future of their workforce.

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