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Set limits on employees’ music before it becomes a problem

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in Employment Law,HR Management,Human Resources

Some employees can quietly listen to music at their workstation with no disruption to co-workers and no damage to their productivity. But with the explosion of new media outlets—such as iPods, Internet music and satellite radio like Sirius and XM—people can now listen to what they want, when they want and where they want.

Many employers see these music machines as PDDs, or portable distraction devices, that can become productivity killers and even legal risks.

Legal liability could arise if an employee streams in offensive material, such as Howard Stern uncensored on Sirius radio. (Both Sirius and XM allow subscribers to listen to programming over the Internet.) A co-worker could claim that hearing such noise at work creates an illegal “hostile work environment.” (It’s the oral equivalent of someone being offended by seeing porn on a co-worker’s computer screen.)

Advice: Now’s the time to consider your need for a music or noise policy. It’s best to set such policies before you encounter problems, so your directive won’t appear to be retaliation against one troublemaker.

The easiest policy is to prohibit all aural media sources in the workplace or for certain jobs. Another option: Focus on the issue as a noise policy, rather than a music policy, by requiring employees to keep the volume down on their speaking as well as all forms of media.

Another option is to outlaw any offensive media content, and clarify that you have the right to determine what’s offensive.

Embracing the iPod. Some employers are actually going the opposite way on this trend, viewing music as a way to stimulate productivity.

Example: A small Arizona publishing company recently bought iPods for employees as a reward for meeting company goals. According to the company’s HR director, “The headphones allow people to listen to their own choice of music without disturbing or offending other employees… It works great for our editorial department because it tunes out other office distractions.”

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