In 2010, Rose Acre Farms, the second largest producer of eggs in the U.S., unknowingly hired an undercover videographer from Humane Society of the United States.
Joe Miller, general counsel for Rose Acre, says the employee shot three hours of video, which was edited down to three minutes. Despite the lack of any evidence of abuse, HSUS held a press conference and barred anyone connected with ag from entering.
"I could take three hours of video of anyone and make it look bad if I edited it down to three minutes," Miller adds.
Luckily, Rose Acre was proactive in their reaction. They were in the hallways of the press conference and held a press conference of their own. They invited every member of the media to visit any farm location at any time. They had one taker. The nightly news reported none of HSUS' claims were verified in their footage.
Hindsight is 20/20
Looking back, Miller says there were numerous warning signs that this employee was not legitimate. His work history was falsified. He was from out of state, and listed a cheap motel as his permanent residence.
However, the farm has 1,800 employees with a 30% turnover rate. Checking references becomes arduous with those numbers. Needless to say, a renewed interest on weeding these folks out has been instituted at Rose Acre Farms.
For those who think an undercover video law will provide plenty of protection, think again. Additionally, only six states have such laws in place: Utah, Missouri, Arkansas, Wyoming, New Hampshire and Nebraska. According to Illinois Farm Bureau attorney Laura Harmon, Illinois farmers could file a civil suit in response to an undercover video. There is a statute on the books that protects against employees seeking employment under false pretenses.
"You really need to have better hiring practices," Harmon adds. "Most of these folks are obviously not farm employees."
Here are several tips for hiring managers looking to avoid an undercover video fiasco.
* Examine employment history: If working with animals seems completely out of character with this person's previous employment history, this could be an indicator they're not who they say they are. Also, an out of state driver's license could raise suspicions.
* Check references: This is the best way to verify previous employment. In Rose Acre's case, the undercover videographer had falsified all three jobs listed on his application.
* Verify the address: Many undercover activists hole up in a hotel while working at the farm. This could be an indicator that they don't plan on sticking around very long.
* Look for suspicious activity: If the employee consistently volunteers for unsavory jobs, this could be a red flag. Also, if they're caught milling around in areas outside of their job description, this could be another hint they're spying on you.
* Have an animal-abuse policy: With any new hire, the procedures for reporting animal abuse should be covered and available in writing. Make sure employees know they're required to report abuse within 48 hours (in case the incident is witnessed on a Friday). Also, Miller says don't be afraid to include language that says if the employee fails to report an abuse, which was caught on tape, then they can be held legally accountable.
- Flint is editor of sister publication Prairie Farmer