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Social media update: Are your employees doing “the Harlem shake”?

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Employers will no doubt concede that social media is ubiquitous, and is beginning to permeate the boundary between personal life and professional life; and the YouTube phenomenon is no exception. However, “The Harlem Shake”, the biggest YouTube sensation since Justin Bieber’s “Baby” and Psy’s “Gangnam Style”, has recently caused ripples in the workplace the world over.

The Harlem Shake is a 30-second video featuring part of the song of the same name by electronic musician Baauer. According to Wikipedia, “a video begins with one person (often helmeted or masked) dancing to the song alone for 15 seconds, surrounded by other people not paying attention or unaware of the dancing individual. When the bass drops, the video cuts to the entire crowd doing a crazy convulsive dance for the next 15 seconds.” There are thousands of unique Harlem Shake videos on YouTube, with the most popular one having received an astounding 47 million views!

While I am ordinarily inspired by spontaneous and fun activities in the workplace, The Harlem Shake sensation has garnered significant media attention over the past week for the trouble it has caused in the workplace, and the compliance challenges that employers have faced as a result.

In the video called “Harlem Shake Frontier Flight 157”, passengers are shown performing the dance in the aisle and in the front seats of a packed Frontier Airlines flight from Colorado Springs to San Diego. This inflight performance has attracted the attention of the United States Federal Aviation Administration, which has commenced an investigation to determine whether any Federal Aviation Regulations were violated. Many similar airline performances have been reported, including a performance by Frontier Airlines crew days earlier, although they all appear to have occurred while the plane was on the ground.

Another version of The Harlem Shake was performed by a group of miners at Australia’s Agnew Gold Mine (the video is called “WA miners sacked for Harlem Shake”). After reviewing the video, their employer determined that the fifteen miners who participated in its production had created a health and safety issue in the workplace, and breached the company’s “core values of safety, integrity and excellence”. Accordingly, each of the workers involved was terminated.

Both of these situations serve as excellent reminders on the issue of placing limits on the use of social media in the workplace, the importance of employer and employee discretion when sharing spontaneous activities that may have occurred in the workplace, and the public relations challenges that can arise once information is shared online. An employer can mitigate against such risks by implementing a comprehensive social media policy in the workplace, training employees on how the social media policy is to be interpreted, and disciplining those who choose to violate the policy. Similarly, employees can mitigate against risk of discipline by ensuring that records of activities that have occurred in the workplace are not posted to the public domain. By working together, employers and employees can ensure that spontaneity and fun continue to be fostered in the workplace.

And with that, I leave you with a YouTube video of my own. I am the “Backstreet Boy” on the right. Enjoy!

Ryan D. Campbell