Lesson of the Boys on the Bus

Could videotaping be a solution to workplace bullying?

It was in Karen Klein’s case.

As a result of a cell phone video that went viral on the Internet, four seventh-graders in upstate New York recently were suspended for a year for bullying Karen Klein, a 68-year-old school bus monitor.

Meanwhile, a fund drive started on Klein’s behalf has yielded more than $650,000 to date.

It is unlikely that anyone would have believed what Klein went through on that bus ride home if it had not been videotaped.  The youths’ behavior is so vile that it is shocking !

The four boys cruelly taunt and humiliate Klein, even commenting about the suicide of her oldest son.  (“You don’t have a family because they all killed themselves because they don’t want to be near you.”)  They invaded her personal and emotional space, as well as her physical space. They drove her to tears and they were positively gleeful about it.

Surveys show that at least one in four American workers experience a hostile workplace as a result of bullying. Adult bullies tend to be more sophisticated than middle school boys. Most bullies in the workplace are supervisors but they can also be co-workers and customers.

Supervisors undermine the target over time with unfair criticism and demeaning comments.  They sabotage the target’s work by providing inadequate resources and unrealistic deadlines. They set out to systematically destroy the target’s reputation and self-esteem.

Targets of workplace bullying currently have little or no legal recourse to address the problem unless they are targeted in violation of civil rights laws on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, age, disability, etc.  Most targets of workplace bullying must either endure the bullying until they are sick, forced to quit or fired.

Other countries have adopted laws and regulations addressing workplace bullying but there is no state or federal law on the problem in the United States. Workplace bullying has been virtually ignored by the U.S. Secretary of Labor and the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration.

So back to Klein’s case. The videotape of the boys on the bus drew international attention to her plight. Maybe there’s a lesson there.

Employers today routinely monitor employees to insure against theft or fraud. Why shouldn’t employees electronically monitor the workplace?

Keep in mind that several states have laws that prohibit the use of devices that record, photograph or overhear events or conversations in private places. Private areas include places where a reasonable amount of privacy is expected, such as a restroom or a locker room. Most work areas are considered public but … anyone who is seriously considering the surreptitious monitoring of their workplace should review (in advance) the laws of their state and, if they’re smart, consult an attorney.

It’s a radical idea but maybe a few viral videos that demonstrate the real problem of workplace bullying in the United States would prompt some long overdue federal attention to the problem.

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