Lately, there’s been a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on. The “Harlem Shake,” that is, and it’s a dance that in-house counsel should be thinking about.
Versions of the “Harlem Shake” are being recorded in offices around the country and uploaded to the web. And it’s not only folks working in cubicles: LeBron James and the Miami Heat are doing it. Employees in NASA’s control room are doing it. Even bottles and cans of Pepsi, it seems, can’t resist getting in on the “Harlem Shake” action. The clips feature a now predictable sequence of first one, then a growing cast of costumed characters dancing to the song by Brooklyn deejay Baauer. There are thousands of the 30-second videos on YouTube, and some of them are causing unforeseen aftershocks in the workplace.
In a recent blog post, Ryan Campbell, an associate with Rubin Thomlinson in Toronto, discussed how the Internet meme has presented a host of compliance challenges for businesses.
Earlier this month, more than a dozen miners in Australia were fired for a video of employees doing the dance during work hours. An unnamed worker told the Western Australian the eight miners were just "having a bit of fun," but Agnew Gold Mine said the workers violated safety regulations.
In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration launched an investigation of a mid-flight performance of the dance by passengers aboard Frontier Airlines flight 157. The passengers, led by members of Colorado College’s ultimate Frisbee team, supposedly were given permission to make the video by Frontier staff.
Campbell told CorpCounsel.com that recent fallout from the videos serves as a good reminder to employers that social media use should not go wholly unrestricted in the workplace. It also presents an opportunity for employers to remind their employees of the importance of discretion.
In other words, let’s thank the “Harlem Shake” phenomenon for a timely reminder that there’s an appropriate time and place when it comes to having fun at work.
Retired pilot Jim Tilmon told CNN that while the Frontier video may have been cute, it was the "wrong place, wrong time."
Campbell says that social media in general offers both opportunities and potential consequences for employers. “It’s becoming ubiquitous in the modern workplace,” he says. “I think that it’s blurring the line between personal life and professional life, and I think that could be cause for concern.”
Using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other online media allows employers to make more informed hiring decisions, and social media can be used to engage an existing workforce.
But these tools can present privacy and confidentiality issues when not used correctly. “Take, for example, Twitter,” says Campbell. “Some people just can’t resist sharing what they’re doing every minute of the day.” Often, over-sharing isn’t appropriate for employees while on the job. “It may not be appropriate for a lawyer, for example, to tweet from a courtroom, to say, ‘I’m in courtroom X before Judge Y on this file,’ ” he says.
From a productivity perspective, it’s a big concern as well.
“The amount of time that an employee may spend on social media during a workday obviously detracts from their ability to do the work they’re being paid for,” he says.
Since social media use is a given in today’s workplace, what is a modern employer to do?
One tactic Campbell has seen employers use is restricting access to social media sites like Facebook. They set up computer workstations in break rooms and allow their employees to check social media that way. “That limits at least the amount of time and the amount of temptation that an employee has to use those products in the workplace,” says Campbell, who represents both employees and employers.
As for content creation, Campbell recommends social media policies that dictate the terms of computer use generally, and also the ownership of information. “So pictures that are taken at the workplace are property of the employer,” he says. “That allows the employer some control, at least conceivably, over the content that’s being posted.”
But a little fun in the office can go a long way in building employee morale. How can employers enforce the rules without looking like a killjoy?
“You want to make sure that your employees know up front what the expectations are, so that it doesn’t look unreasonable down the road when you’re looking to enforce them,” says Campbell.
But he says employers need to be reasonable in their expectations. “You need to consider that there is a divide between work life and home life and employees are entitled to their opinions outside of work and are entitled to do things—provided that they’re legal—outside of work, and that shouldn’t bleed into the workplace.”