The undercover taping of animal abuse at farms in Ohio and Pennsylvania earlier this year has been one of those proverbial wake-up calls. Not only must dairy operations revisit their animal handling policies, it serves as a dire warning that employees might not be who they say they are. Take note: The undercover videographer who taped the alleged abuses in Pennsylvania was the same person who months later taped the Ohio incident.
A closer vetting of new hires is absolutely essential in protecting your dairy from a similar incident, said Eric Hobbs, an attorney with Michael Best & Friedrich LLP, based in Milwaukee, Wis. Hobbs specializes in labor and employment issues.
While the chances of actually hiring someone who is an undercover animal rights videographer are probably remote, delving into a job applicant's previous work record and references is only sound business, Hobbs said.
"Absolutely check references," he said. "Checking references thoroughly is time consuming. But you want to vet each applicant really well. It's easier not to hire than it is to fire."
During the employment interview, it is perfectly legal to ask whether the applicant is or ever was a member of an animal rights group. If the answer is yes, you can then ask how deeply involved the applicant is (or was) in the organization. Mere membership in an animal rights group is not a "protected characteristic" under employment law, as are race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, veteran status and union membership, Hobbs said. If you feel uncomfortable hiring an applicant who is sympathetic to animal rights causes, you have every legal right not to hire the person. At the same time, if a person denies ever being a member of an animal rights group and you hire that person and later learn otherwise, the lie is grounds for dismissal.
"So it's good to ask the question, because you are creating a record in the employment interview that you can use later if you need to," Hobbs said.
The article in its entirety is available at www.agweb.com/undercover_snoops/.
Reprinted in part from AgWeb.com