Harassment, Threats & Workplace Security in Animal Welfare

Have you ever been harassed, bullied, or threatened because of your job helping animals? Unfortunately, it is not uncommon. And as it’s one of today’s most relevant and pressing topics in animal welfare, we’ve invited Michelle Davidson, an expert in workplace safety, to share insights and recommendations during Looking Ahead: The Future of Animal Welfare. Read on for some background and what you will learn during her December 9 session, “Addressing Security Issues in Animal Welfare.”

The Association: Let’s start with a basic understanding of what defines harassment. 
Michelle Davidson: The act of systematic and/or continued unwanted and annoying actions of one party or a group, including threats and demands. The purposes may vary, including racial prejudice, personal malice, an attempt to force someone to quit a job or grant sexual favors, apply illegal pressure to collect a bill, or merely gain sadistic pleasure from making someone fearful or anxious. Here is the rest of the legal definition.

The Association: What constitutes a threat?
Michelle Davidson:
Spoken or written words tending to intimidate or menace others. Statutes in a number of jurisdictions prohibit the use of threats and unlawful communications by any person. Unlawful communications include, among other things, the use of threats to prevent another from engaging in a lawful occupation and writing libelous letters or letters that tend to provoke a breach of the peace. A mere threat that does not cause any harm is generally not actionable. When combined with apparently imminent bodily harm, however, a threat is an assault for which the offender might be subject to civil or criminal liability.

The Association: How has the nature of workplace security changed in the last few years?
Michelle Davidson:
Workplace violence is a real issue that providers of any service are at risk for experiencing. According to the CDC, the risk of fatal violence increases for workers in sales, protective services, and transportation, while the risk for nonfatal violence, resulting in injury is greatest for healthcare and social assistance workers. The pandemic has caused high anxiety/high stress situations that increase the intensity of workplace violence incidents. Increased security measures to protect staff against COVID-19 have, almost by default, assisted in making staff safer from public acts of violence by enhancing access control. 

The Association: Are there different considerations for online incidents? 
Michelle Davidson:
Threats should be taken seriously and reported quickly and appropriately, even if they are received through social media or any electronic delivery. Assessing the threat should be left up to law enforcement. Inquiring about personal safety recommendations at the time of reporting is recommended. 

The Association: At what point does an incident require action? 
Michelle Davidson:
Trusting your instincts and responding accordingly is a key element to mitigating threats. Often, simply the act of reporting the incident will lead to appropriate action. If you feel threatened in any way or your gut tells you something is concerning, you should act. If you feel your report was dismissed or isn’t being taken seriously, tell someone else. 

The Association: What can attendees prep or think about in advance of your session? 
Michelle Davidson:
Consider evaluating your current security policies and procedures. When were they last audited? How are staff trained to address harassment and targeting?

Davidson will be continuing the conversation during her conference session, “Addressing Security Issues in Animal Welfare,” where she’ll share recommendations on how to address and mitigate incidents of targeted harassment, threats, and workplace violence in animal welfare.


More On The Conference Sessions

3 Ways to Be A More Effective Humane Enforcement Officer
3 Ways to Make Sure Your Hiring Practices Aren’t Outdated
Conference Brochure: Looking Ahead: The Future of Animal Welfare

Photo: Morgan Basham on Unsplash


The Association is the only international society of leaders actively leading and managing community animal shelters/animal control agencies.


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