Five Things to Consider When Designing a Music Policy

Music lyrics today, in certain genres, are very explicit. Many songs include profanity, sexist, racist, or ethnically offensive content, or have graphic descriptions of human anatomy. It’s no surprise to HR that some employees are easily offended by the music being played by a coworker.

Equal employment opportunity discrimination laws require that almost nothing offensive is ever said in the workplace, with the topic of music giving most employers a headache. Offensive lyrics can be grounds for a harassment suit, and the type of music allowed in your workplace comes down to company policy. Allowing employees to wear earbuds could lead to workplace injuries or coworkers feeling ignored, so there is a lot to consider when designing sensitive guidelines for your team to follow.

As an employer, you don’t want to police your workplace to rid it of popular culture references. Today I will give you some thoughtful tips to consider when designing a company policy regarding music in the workplace that will leave your employees singing a happy tune.

Clear, written policies

Explaining that lyrics depicting racial, sexual, religious, and other slurs and harassment are inappropriate will help employees know what is allowed and what is not. Consider adding a statement saying if the lyrics can be questioned, it is best to assume they are inappropriate. Along with explaining what is unacceptable, include the proper procedure that employees can follow to complain if they are offended. As with every policy, take immediate action with grievances and enforce the policy with progressive discipline before the situation gets out of control.


In industrial settings, loud music can be an occupational hazard on the factory floor, and the options to wear earbuds can be as well. Workers need to hear alarms, listen for malfunctioning machinery, and warnings by coworkers. Employees wearing earbuds might be less attentive to their surroundings and become more accident-prone, driving up health insurance costs or workers’ compensation claims.

Younger workers claim that wearing headphones helps them achieve focus and solitude in open-plan offices. However, wearing earbuds is much like wearing a “Do Not Disturb” sign and can be misunderstood in the workplace. Take each job description into consideration when deciding your music policy in the workplace. For example, you may set policies against using earphones by employees who meet customers, but will you allow janitorial staff to wear them?

Train your employees

Many young people (and some older ones) are entering the job market clueless about what is “appropriate” or “professional” behavior, and it is the responsibility of the employer to train them to the expectations of the company. Instead of giving new hires an employee handbook and a pen to sign the confirmation page, affirming they have read it, make sure they actually understood the information.

Individual people perceive information differently based on their beliefs, experiences, and current state of mind. A new hire is likely to agree with things without thinking because they want to make a good impression. Revisiting policies throughout the year will keep the content fresh in employees’ minds and everyone on the same page. Taking five minutes at the beginning of the staff meeting to review the music policy every six months will remind everyone what is appropriate and allow employees to ask questions for clarity.

Take complaints seriously

Hearing the N-word frequently in a coworker’s musical selections can be offensive to a person, regardless of race, but having their complaints ignored by HR can be emotionally damaging. Even if you think the employee is being overly sensitive, investigate all complaints promptly and objectively. Songs that involve slang terms for members of certain genders, races, or religions are problematic and must be addressed immediately. Lyrics that make sexual references, inferences, or double-entendre must be avoided due to time and difficulty it takes to evaluate potential offensiveness.

Set a good example

Staff are always assessing the stakeholders, executives, and management of the company they work for. If any member of the leadership team is playing music with explicit lyrics, racial epithets, sexual innuendos, or religious slurs, you can be sure that your employees are taking note. Why should they strive to be compliant and mindful of others if the owners and management team aren’t? You can listen to any music you want, regardless of its content, outside of the workplace, but you are a role model for your employees and company culture when you are on-site.


In conclusion, regulating employees’ music is not attempting to judge or control how your employees think; you are establishing standards governing how your employees are to behave in the workplace. Your company has the right to do so because it is held accountable, by law, to ensure all employees feel protected, safe, equal, and respected in the workplace. Creating a music policy to explain what is appropriate for the workplace will keep your team on a level playing field and focused on winning the game.

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