Are Activist Courting Your Employees?
by Don Tyler
Though the cases are somewhat rare at this point in time, extreme animal activist groups are infiltrating livestock operations. In a recent case an employee for “Mercy for Animals,” an “animal rights advocacy” group, got himself hired under false pretenses and admitted to participating in “abusive” behaviors while he was recording the actions. Though some of the procedures they called “abuse” are actually common practice in livestock production (i.e. tail docking and castration without anesthesia…) there were some instances of real abuse that occurred.
There are several unanswered questions, such as: “Were these activities staged for the benefit of the infiltrator?” and “If this individual is so concerned about the welfare of the animals, why did he not stop the abuse and report the abusers?”
Secret recordings have been a tactic of “whistleblowers” for decades, but when people with an alterior motive use actions that include staged animal abuse, breaches in biosecurity that can infect and kill thousands of animals, and potential damage to crops, chemical inventories, seeds, fuel storage and equipment—there needs to be protection for innocent employees, owners—and livestock.
There are also stories from producers and employees that these same extremist organizations are courting employees to do their bidding. They prey on disgruntled, cash-strapped employees with an axe to grind against their employer and pay them large sums to stage animal abuse. The actions are videotaped, the employee quits their job, and then the recordings are posted on YouTube, websites, and other social media. Though none of these have been confirmed by any media, there is ample anecdotal evidence to suggest this type of enticement is on the rise.
To combat this possibility, we are updating Employee Handbooks to include a variety of limitations for the employee’s own protection.
Some of the policies being added include:
• No video, pictures or any type of recording is allowed without the presence of an owner or manager.
• If an employee witnesses an act of abuse and does not report it, they are disciplined in the same manner as the offender.
• No contact with any animal rights, animal activist or anti-agriculture organizations or individuals is allowed. Any inadvertent contact must be reported.
• Any act of abuse will be handled in accordance with established policy, and may be reported to the local sheriff for criminal prosecution.
• Employees are not allowed to comment on any of the operation’s practices on blogs, Facebook, Twitter or any other social media without the approval of the management or ownership.
• Any tampering with seeds, chemicals, equipment or other assets of the business will result in immediate termination and possible prosecution.
In some operations, we are using a separate, signed agreement between the employer and the employee that lists these expectations as well as validation that the employee is not attempting to be hired for illicit reasons or for anything other than gainful employment with the company.
In the past, most of our employees came from the local area and their background was fairly easy to confirm—but that is less common now. For this reason and many others, we need to perform our due diligence in checking references, doing at least a cursory background check, and using the internet and social media searches to glean as much information as possible about employees that are less familiar to us—and even those that come to us highly recommended. Using a browser to search their name, searching for a blog that they may post on, and looking to see if they have a Facebook or other social media page can prove priceless as tools to reduce our exposure to unethical behaviors.
Most employees are loyal and would only use social media to enhance their reputation and that of their employer, but they may not realize that they can be used as tools for someone else’s illicit agenda. We don’t want to inappropriately limit their freedoms or cause them anxiety, but we must do our part to protect them from getting pulled into illegal activities that could harm their reputation for life. ©
For additional information and suggestions on how to write these policies, e-mail Don at firstname.lastname@example.org, or give him a call at 765-523-3259.