(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY: Allow me to be a bit personal here. In 8th grade I became the victim of choice for the popular kids at my school. In addition to being harassed and teased at school, when the home phone would ring it was often one of my tormenters.
After 8th grade, my family moved 5 hours away. While the bullies didn't physically follow me, my 9th grade year began with repeated phone calls from this group of high schoolers. After a month (presumably when moms and dads started getting the long distance phone bill from their little darlings' bullying behavior) the phone calls stopped and I was finally free from those nightmarish teenagers.
Four years later, in my freshman year of college, I was walking up the steps to go to a class when another freshman girl stopped me. "Excuse me, are you Suzanne McConkie?"
Puzzled, as I didn't recognize her, I responded, "Yes."
"I'm Darleen Jones,*" she said and my heart nearly stopped beating and I felt sick to my stomach. Darleen was one of the ringleaders of my group of tormenters. She was the absolute last person I wanted to see ever again. But she continued, "I just wanted to apologize for how I treated you. It was inexcusable. I'm really sorry."
What does this have to do with employment and your career? A new initiative called BULLYcheck in Australia requires casinos ("clubs") to contact a candidate's high school if the candidate is 22 or younger. The high school is then to label this candidate a bully if the person participated "either at school or online in social media, in bullying, stalking or harassment of a repeat, systemic or serious nature."
Social media didn't exist in the time Darleen and her friends were tormenting me, but it certainly was bullying and harassment and it was repeated and systematic. Should Darleen, who was genuinely remorseful for the behavior she committed at 13-14 years old, have been prevented from holding a job? What good purpose would that serve?
Employers should check references and teachers are often good sources for references from newly minted graduates, but I'm sure if I spoke with Darleen's teacher from her senior English class I'd get a very different perspective then what a BULLYcheck report would turn up. Shouldn't the more recent reference count? And what about when Darlene is 21? Should behavior from 7 years prior even be brought up? The developmental difference between a 14 year old and a 21 year old is vast.
The local newspaper reported:
Secondary Principals' Council president Chris Cawsey said the council favoured the program because employers were making a stand about the kind of people they wanted working for them. "Research has shown children who are locked into aggressive behaviour become isolated and at risk as adults,'' Ms Cawsey said.
So, the best thing to do is take a kid that was a problem causer in high school and isolate him further as an adult, right? Because what problem will that solve? But never fear, they reassure us that children who have changed will not be branded as bullies.
Then why are we going back 8 years? Who cares what you did when you were 14, 15 or 17. This is just another ridiculous attempt to blame bullies with the idea that if we can just punish enough the problem will go away. 15 year olds don't think about what job they will want when they are 22. A delayed punishment won't fix the problem now.
As Free Range Kid founder and advocate, Lenore Skenazy says:
Worst of all is the treating bullying that never rose to the level of a crime as if it did. It is giving perception and hearsay legal weight, the same as if the job applicant had been convicted of forgery or embezzlement. And in this era of heightened bully fears, MY fear is that we will start defining it downward, and someday someone will be denied a job for calling his friend a doody-head.
Let's hope that this bad idea doesn't move north to the U.S. The EEOC wants employers to limit use of actual criminal convictions, so I hope they'd balk at using high school records to prohibit employment at work. Let's not look at school age bullying either. If a recent reference says the person is a problem, don't hire. If you hire someone who turns out to be a jerk, fire quickly. But, let's acknowledge that part of growing up is figuring out appropriate behavior and not hold teenage mistakes over adult heads.
*Name has been changed.