Employment applicants at agricultural operations are not always what they appear. They could have more interest in destroying your business than in contributing to it, but employers have tools available to minimize their risk of hiring undercover extremists.

Spies, saboteurs and job applicationsParticipants at this week’s Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholders Summit engaged in several discussions of clandestine videos, “Ag-gag” laws and the importance of running operations that comply with strict standards for animal care. Even the best operation however, could have its reputation or more damaged by out-of-context or edited videos filmed by employees with hidden agendas. Attorney Elliot Belilos, from the Washington, D.C. firm Olsson, Frank, Weeda, Terman and Matz offered advice for avoiding making those hires in the first place.

The key, is says, is to apply due diligence in evaluating applicants prior to hiring. Employers have the ability to explore an applicant’s background and protect themselves from undercover activism. Belilos suggests taking these steps.

  • Carefully screen an applicant’s resume or job application.
  • Look for anything that seems suspicious in the applicant’s work or education history, such as long gaps in employment.
  • Take time to verify previous employment. Contact the businesses listed to verify their legitimacy.
  • Contact the applicant’s references.
  • On the application form, include a certification of accuracy, requiring the applicant to sign in acknowledgement that the information provided is accurate. Specify that inaccurate information on the application is grounds for refusal to hire or dismissal if hired.
  • Include a question on the application asking whether the applicant belongs to any activist groups with intent to discredit the business.
  • If allowed in your state, require the applicant to sign consent to a background check.
  • Upon making a job offer, require the person to sign a confidentiality agreement, a pledge not to film or photograph the operation without permission and consent to surveillance of their activities, computer, etc.

If an employer discovers an employee has taken a job under false pretenses, especially if that worker has reported problems such as animal abuse or environmental violations, federal and state laws protect the employee from retaliation as a legitimate whistleblower. However, if the employee lied on the application form and signed an agreement saying all information on was accurate, the employer has grounds for recourse.

Naturally, the first obligation of owners and managers of livestock operations is to assure compliance with laws and established animal-care standards. But with some extremists determined to damage the finances and reputations of farmers and ranchers by any means necessary, a little extra caution in hiring can’t hurt.