Offensive Music At Work

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about offensive music:

After several months at my job I have been told I HAVE to have music pumped into my workspace. The loudness is one issue (I have seen the info in your archives) but my main concern is that many of the songs are of the rap/hip hop genre which have some sexual lyrics that offend me. I cannot wear earplugs and have been told it HAS to be on at a loud level. Any feedback would be appreciated

Signed, Given No Choice

DearĀ Given No Choice:

For a precise legal opinion you should seek an attorney who specializes in labor issues. Most will provide a free consultation, usually by phone. We can provide you with some thoughts and perspectives that might be helpful as you decide what to do. As you note from our archives, music in the workplace is often the subject of debate. From clothing stores to grocery stores and from warehouses to dentist’s offices, many, many businesses have music on speakers throughout the work area. Usually it’s not possible for the music to be shut-off in small areas. And, from an organization’s viewpoint, there may be a perceived business reason to have music in the background in everyone’s workspace.I seem to be unable to mentally tune-out such “background” music,and am always surprised when others say they don’t hear it at all or they are so used to it they no longer notice it. So, I can empathize with your frustration about it.It’s unfortunate you didn’t know, at the time you were hired, that this would happen. However, unless you can show that some aspect of your civil rights are being violated, you have little or no recourse but to either tolerate it or quit your job and let your employer know the reason why.

If the music in your workplace consists of that found on radio stations, it likely would not be so offensive sexually as to make your work a hostile environment under the law. If, on the other hand, the music consists of x-rated CDs, that would be another matter. Knowing the source of the music and noting specific lyrics would be helpful if you contact someone about legal issues related to this. I doubt that is the case though, and think it is likely that the music is mainstream, whatever the genre. That might make it irritating and occasionally offensive to some people, but not to the level that would be considered a hostile work environment.

It may be helpful to discuss the music decision with your supervisor or manager, but the decision may be made at a higher level than those people. Or, the discussion may be over and the music is there to stay.If you think you can make a change, offer options for music stations or types of music you think would be considered enjoyable by most employees, and that would convey the mood your organization aims for.If you have heard music that fits that criteria in other workplaces maybe you can find out the source–CD, radio station, satellite system or other source. If many other employees feel the same way you do, perhaps their combined efforts would be helpful. But, if your company is a large one, it is likely that the music is the same company-wide and one group of employees can’t change it. If your company is a small one, your employer may be swayed by the wishes of most employees. But if you are the only one who objects, he or she might not be willing to change the style of music being played in work areas.

If your primary objection is that you simply don’t want to be forced to listen to music all the time, you probably will have to put up with it or leave. Employers can adjust the environment to fit the style of the organization and the mood desired in a workplace. Employees who do not feel they can fit into the environment either live with it or leave it. If you talk to your employer, be sincere and honest about your objections. If what you really object to is having to listen to any kind of music, or to modern or pop music, say so. Explain how it causes you to lose your focus on work and how disruptive it is to you and perhaps to others.If you sincerely object to the lyrics of songs you know will be played, give examples and why you object to them. Explain why those lyrics do not establish a good business environment.

To make that argument work you will need a history of being vigilant about such things, and it would help if you have a reputation for being very circumspect about your language and subjects of conversation. Don’t use that only as a last-ditch argument when the others have failed, because your employer will see through it and may distrust you in other areas as a result. If you think the situation is severe enough to seek an attorney, ask for a free consultaion, provide specifics and see if that might give you some other options.I hope you can find an amicable resolution to this issue. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what results.

Tina Lewis Rowe