“Yesterday, a young man showed up on my dairy asking for work. He appears to be well qualified, and I took his application. However, I suspect he might be an animal rights activist with a hidden agenda.All of our animals are treated with the utmost care as outlined by the National FARM Program.
Every new employee is educated on proper animal handling techniques, and we conduct yearly refresher courses.Employees who violate protocol receive one warning before being fired on the spot.
Although I have nothing to hide, I am leery about potentially hiring an animal rights activist to work on my dairy. Will I be ‘discriminating’ if I don’t hire him? What should I do?”
Anthony P. Raimondo
Labor attorney and owner of Raimondo & Associates
“You are not necessarily discriminating against him if you refuse to hire him. ‘Discrimination’ occurs any time you treat one person differently from another, and not all forms of discrimination are prohibited.
The law prohibits discrimination against those who are in ‘protected classifications.’ Protected classifications include race, gender, religion, national origin, age, disability and genetic information, as well as reprisal for protected activity (such as filing a workers’ compensation complaint or concerted complaints about working conditions).
Generally, ‘animal rights activist’ is not a protected classification, and you can decline to hire the individual without fear of liability.
However, you need to be aware that some state laws, like California, protect workers from retaliation for their off-duty political activities, which could create a problem. I would want to know much more about this situation.
What is the information the dairy has that leads to the suspicion that this person is an animal rights activist? For example, if he was identified as having taken photos or video to attack another livestock operation, that would make it easier to refuse to hire. I would want to know how detailed and reliable the information is.
I also would want to know if the individual falls into any protected classification to see if there are any ‘red flags’ suggestive of other forms of legally prohibited discrimination.
If I felt there was enough concern not to hire the person, I would be sure to select an applicant of similar or superior qualification so I could be sure to identify objective, job-related reasons consistent with business necessity as to why I chose not to hire the person. Objective, job-related justifications are the best protection against discrimination claims.”
Vice President, Animal Care, National Milk Producers Federation
“Kudos on your clear passion and commitment to quality animal care. Utilizing the animal care guidelines outlined in the Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) Program and implementing employee training and accountability protocols are critical steps to put your values into action. It certainly sounds like you’re doing everything right to ensure that your cows are cared for properly and your employees adhere to your core farm values.
One of the biggest things I think our industry can do to ensure we don’t give animal rights activists the opportunity to make more undercover videos is to assure that we’re hiring the right people. Every single person that sets foot on your farm and receives a paycheck from you should be there for the right reasons: to guarantee top-notch care is provided to your animals so that you can produce the safest and most nutritious product for consumers.
If you have any concerns that a job applicant isn’t there to make animal care a top priority – no matter the reason – they should not be on your farm, period. We’re only as strong as our weakest link and activists know that, which is why they target farms with transient workforces and lax employee training mechanisms.
If you suspect that someone has ulterior motives, I would try to tease those out using pointed and direct questions that ask about their past employment, including experiences pertaining directly to animal care, their hobbies and other interests.
You could even ask to see their social media accounts to verify this information. I would also recommend calling references on all applicants; you can learn a lot about someone from their most recent employer.
Bottom line, trust your gut. You’re the one assuming the risk of hiring the wrong person, whether that be an undercover activist or an otherwise unqualified employee, and you know best who would make a good fit on your farm.
But if you do decide to hire them, make sure you have them sign an animal care pledge promising that they’ll be part of the solution in reporting (as opposed to just observing and surreptitiously filming) any animal mistreatment. I recommend the See It, Stop It animal care pledge available on our website.”
Emily J. Curray
Managing Partner at Stern & Curray LLC
Managing Partner of Heizer Paul LLP
“You can probably decide not to hire this fellow without creating a legal problem for yourself. As an employer, you may always determine that an applicant’s training, work experience or other qualifications are not right for the position you have available. You should not, however, refuse to hire someone based on his race, color, gender, religion, age or what country he came from.
In this situation, you could probably choose not to hire the applicant because something he said or something you found out about him led you to suspect that he participates in activities you oppose.
But be careful. A small number of states prohibit employers from refusing to hire someone because he participates in lawful activities off-duty and off the work site. The best idea is to check with your attorney if you wind up in this position.
Here are some other good hiring practices:
- Check references. The difficulty of finding good farm labor, coupled with a high turnover rate, may make it unrealistic to check every applicant’s references. In that case, you could check references in certain situations, such as when all the applicant’s prior animal-related work is out of state, or for all applicants who list an out-of-state address.
- Provide your animal handling protocol and farm rules in writing to all applicants and inform potential employees they will be terminated for failing to follow your protocols or for failing to report any abuse they observe.
- Require employees to sign a policy that prohibits them from making photos, videos or audio recordings on your property without your permission.
- Verify addresses provided by applicants to ensure they are real addresses for a house or apartment.
- Treat all applicants the same. Don’t have different hiring practices for different people. Following a consistent set of hiring procedures helps protect you from claims that you were unfair or discriminated against someone.” PD
Submit your own business management and employee relations questions for a panel to review. Click here to send them by email.
Illustration by Kristen Phillips.