Is the Music in Your Workplace Creating a Hostile Work Environment?

To many people, music can be motivating. It can help make mundane tasks easier and make the workday fly by. But for some people, music can be controversial and can create feelings of discomfort and unease.

When employees have complaints about music in the workplace, employers must not ignore them. Failure to take prompt action can lead to unhappiness, frustration, and resignations. Offensive music can even lead to complaints that the employer has failed to take action to correct a hostile work environment which can lead to legal actions. In fact, this is exactly what happened to one employer.

Sharp v. S&S Activewear Case

The Nevada clothing manufacturer S&S Activewear maintains a large warehouse for its operations. Certain employees played sexually graphic, violent, and misogynistic music throughout the warehouse. The music was impossible to escape, as it was blasted from powerful commercial-grade speakers placed throughout the 700,000-square-foot warehouse. Some employees even attached speakers to forklifts.

Other employees were offended by the music’s lyrics, which frequently depicted violence towards women and glorified prostitution. There were allegations that this music served as a catalyst for further abusive behavior at the workplace, such as use of explicit language, sharing of pornography, making graphic gestures, and more.  Offended workers made numerous complaints to management who defended the music, calling it “motivational.”

Eight former employees (both male and female) brought a lawsuit claiming that the music and abusive conduct created a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

The court dismissed the case, ruling that the music’s offensiveness to both men and women nullified any potential discrimination. However, the Ninth Circuit reversed the trial court based on two important considerations. First, harassment – whether aural or visual – need not be directly targeted at a particular individual to give rise to a Title VII claim. Second, even if the challenged conduct is offensive to multiple genders, a Title VII claim can still be filed. Several circuits have ruled that “sights and sounds that pervade the work environment may constitute sex discrimination under Title VII.”

Creating a Workplace Music Policy

This ruling offers a valuable lesson to employers, highlighting the importance of adopting effective policies related to music in the workplace. Employers can learn from this case and ensure they are not at risk by taking the following steps:

  • Create a workplace music policy. This policy should prohibit music with racist, violent, or misogynistic lyrics. Include procedures for employees to follow if they are offended and want to file a complaint.
  • Headphone/earbud use. If music cannot be played in an open work environment, can employees wear earbuds? This will vary. You may not want public-facing employees to wear headphones but may choose to allow others to do so.
  • Take complaints seriously. If an employee does come to you to complain about music, take their complaints seriously and investigate. This should be your policy about any type of complaint.

Contact Our Frisco Employment Law Attorneys Today

It is important for employers to have a policy regarding music in the workplace to prevent discomfort and to eliminate the possibility that it could create a hostile work environment.

For help with workplace policies or any other employment or business law matter, the Frisco employment lawyers at Simon | Paschal PLLC can help. To schedule a consultation, call (972) 893-9340 or contact us online.

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