Sunday, March 25, 2012

Industrial Terrorism - Real Threat or Political Hype?

What do you think of, when you hear the word terrorism?  Most people picture bombings, hijackings, shootings and other acts of violence.  In fact, the U.S. Department of Defense defines terrorism as acts or threats of violence to create fear, in order to influence governments or societies.  However, a handful of large corporations have come up with a new definition and are working on special political support to enforce their new version.

This new terrorist is not armed with a bomb, gun or explosives, nor any other type of weapon.  The industrial terrorist uses a camera instead.  Not one laced with explosives or biochemical tools of mass destruction - just a simple, hidden video camera.

The so-called industrial terrorist will infiltrate agricultural corporate operations, directly through the HR department - by applying for a job opening.  The terrorist then secretly videotapes how other employees treat animals in the operations.  This could include dairy farms, feedlots or poultry operations.  The video will be edited to highlight the worst abuses and posted online, usually by a group advocating veganism.

In the past, this would have simply been called an expose or investigative journalism.  Certainly not a form of terrorism.  Now, a handful of large corporations are pushing for legislation to define these undercover videos as industrial terrorism.

There are several real dangers in calling this type of expose, or whistle-blowing, terrorism.

Using the word terrorism for “gotcha” journalism undermines the very real threat that terrorism poses around the world.  Each year, real terrorists with real weapons kill real people.  They don’t just embarrass them with bad videos.  It makes as much sense as calling someone a murderer after they insulted you with some name-calling.

The term industrial terrorism tries to make this issue society’s problem rather than the corporations’ by creating a sense of physical danger to the community and re-directing law enforcement resources to deal with a terrorist threat.

Another potential problem is that these proposed laws may discourage future, legitimate whistleblowers.  An individual who sees a real problem or health risk may be afraid of coming forward with critical information if they risk being labeled a terrorist and prosecuted.  To support their claims, they may want to gather information, including photos or video.

Businesses have a right and obligation to protect themselves from threats.  Their employees, stockholder and customers expect and need that.  The real question is what is the best approach in these types of circumstances?

The first step is to create environments that eliminate any unethical treatment of animals.  We all understand that these agricultural corporations do provide a key source of food.  How that is done is another question.  Make sure that employees are not acting in ways that seem to promote needless violence or poor treatment of animals.  Sound policies and oversight are key to make those changes.

The next step is to conduct screenings on prospective employees.  Even simple background checks to verify past work history, personal references etc should be done to help eliminate anyone trying to get hired under false pretenses.  This should be done regardless of concerns about so-called industrial terrorists.  There have been legitimate concerns that terrorists could target food sources as a way to harm the public.

When negative or bad publicity does come out, instead of trying to shift the blame or demonize those exposing problems, take positive steps to improve public relations.  Release counter-videos, stressing how the operations should work and how employees are trained to treat livestock ethically instead.  Fix the problem and continue to strive for a better environment, not just the cheapest way to mass-produce meat products.  Talk about the strict policies, which should be in place to get rid of anyone who acts cruelly and follow through.  Any employee who enjoys hurting or mistreating animals should be fired immediately.

Instead of overblown new laws and political battles, agricultural companies should focus inwards on fixing the problems that created the bad publicity rather than trying to outlaw the messenger.

              

Eric Smith, CPP is the leading authority on organizational self-defense.  He has extensive experience in law enforcement as well as security management.  Eric is available for staff education and security awareness training as well as business coaching to help organizations provide safe workplaces.  To learn more visit http://www.businesskarate.com. 



If you would like to reprint this post, please contact Eric at eric@businesskarate.com. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Are Bad Policies Making You a Liability Target?


Risks come in all shapes and sizes – and more importantly from any direction.  Typically, we think of risks as those dangers or hazards that are coming at us from others, maybe employees, but usually from outside our organizations.  Sometimes, however, we may be our own worst enemy.

One way we cause ourselves to stumble is through poorly written policies.  Policies and procedures are the backbone of many organizations and embraced by HR departments.  Policies should be guides or even educational tools letting employees know what the company expects for a given situation.  The procedures should outline how the staff will do that.

However, there are times when a policy causes more harm than good.  In fact, it can put an organization in a dangerous situation, exposing it to more loss than is necessary.  Bad policies can increase the risk of liability at the worst end of the spectrum.  At best, a bad policy can create inefficiencies, be unproductive or simply misguided.  Somewhere in the middle could be employee dissatisfaction when a policy attempts to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.

A poorly written or thought-out policy is an unnecessary risk and creates increased liability.  This may sound dramatic, but is not as infrequent as you might think.  When an organization faces a lawsuit, the courts will quickly look to policy manuals and whether or not the company followed their own policy.  This means that if a policy is more restrictive or requires acts above and beyond typical case law, you increase the risk of losing a lawsuit.  

As a police officer, we were expected to know the law as well as policies for a wide-variety of situations and had to be able to act in seconds.  I was surprised at one point in my career to find that the policy for use of force was more restrictive than state law.  One example had to do with the use of deadly force to defend yourself or someone else.  Under state law, an officer would be justified to use deadly force to stop an attack that could cause death or serious bodily injury.  Per policy, an officer could not respond to an imminent attack involving serious bodily injury with deadly force.  That would mean that a suspect wielding a baseball bat swinging at your knees threatening to cripple you or a victim would not justify a deadly response per policy.  If an officer did face that situation and shot an attacker to stop harm to them self or another, the department could be sued for failure to follow its own policy.

Police pursuit policies are another potential hot topic.  An overly restrictive policy, as compared to local laws, could increase the risk of liability if it is not followed.  On the other hand, limiting pursuits may reduce accidents and injuries to innocent bystanders and, presumably reduce the chance of a situation that would generate a lawsuit.

You might be thinking that these examples have nothing to do with your own situation.  However, you might be in a position increasing liability inadvertently through other, more mundane, policies.  For example, if you have a policy of doing a background check on all new hires and the policy states that it is supposed to include a reference check.  The screening includes a criminal history check or a verification of past work history, but no one ever calls a reference.  In the event that an employee commits a crime and it is discovered that the company was not following their own policy, there could be an increased possibility of failing to act as promised.  

There is also the correlation to compliance issues.  For many different industries, there are compliance or accreditation concerns.  In health care, for example, most hospitals choose to be accredited through The Joint Commission.  One TJC requirement is that an organization follows its own policies.  It follows then, that the policies need to be realistic to ensure that employees do, and are, following the policy.  If a policy is overly cumbersome or not practical, then the hospital could be out of line and be found to be out of compliance during an audit or survey even though the policy exceeds the Joint Commission standards.

Policies and procedures are necessary and when well written help employees perform their jobs more effectively and to understand what is expected.  Good policies also help organizations protect themselves from mistakes and avoid legal pitfalls.  The wrong or poorly written policy can do the exact opposite.  Each policy should be carefully thought out, with the goals identified and any potential legal risks evaluated.
              

Eric Smith, CPP is the leading authority on organizational self-defense.  He has extensive experience in law enforcement as well as security management.  Eric is available for staff education and security awareness training as well as business coaching to help organizations provide safe workplaces.  To learn more visit http://www.businesskarate.com. 

If you would like to reprint this post, please contact Eric at eric@businesskarate.com.