Monthly Archives: March 2013

Time to Update Your Company’s Harlem Shake Policy

It was bound to happen: All those Harlem Shake videos on YouTube have finally gotten the attention of the lawyers. According to, the Federal Aviation Association is investigating safety concerns over a Shake incident by passengers on a Frontier Airlines flight. (You will perhaps not be surprised to learn that the group was led by members of Colorado College’s Ultimate Frisbee team.) Safety concerns were also cited in the firing of a group of Australian miners for their on-the-job Shake performance. (See more in the article, When the Harlem Shake Bumps Against Workplace Policy.)

The article didn’t even scratch the surface of employees recently fired for participating in dance crazes, including an Oxford Librarian fired for allowing the filming of a Harlem Shake video at the University, and the Gagnam Style 14, a group of young lifeguards in Southern California who were fired, then rehired, after posting their homage video. Ride those horsies straight to the unemployment line, kids! Even Conan O’Brien has gotten into the act, firing an Indian chief, an astronaut, a giant banana, and someone dressed as a pillow, just as they start gettin’ their Shake on. (Okay, so this last one seems to be a parody.)

Some employment lawyers have taken this opportunity to talk about the infiltration of social media into the workplace, draining company resources and lowering employee productivity. I suppose that’s fair enough, and there may be true safety concerns when employees are getting their groove on down a mine shaft. On the other hand, some of these videos look to be real morale boosters. They can even be useful to employers: A local rescue group for older dogs (Muttville) has posted theirs — which includes people dressed as dogs and actual dogs — as a promotional video. At least we can be glad it isn’t thirty years ago, when the Streak was popular! Oh wait, it still is for this fired guy.



Depressing Statistics on Employment of People With Disabilities

An Associated Press story yesterday included some lousy news for those with disabilities (and their advocates): The percentage of people with disabilities who are in the work force has declined in the last four years, and hasn’t changed appreciably since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed 23 years ago. According to the story (here is the Washington Post’s version), only 18% of working age Americans with disabilities are, in fact, working, compared to 63% for those without disabilities. Not reported in the article, but just as depressing, is the disability wage gap: Full-time employees with disabilities earn $6,100 less per year, on average, than full-time employees who don’t have disabilities. (You can find this figure, along with piles of other disability statistics, in the Disability Status Report.)

Conjectures about what’s still holding back employees with disabilities range from employer prejudice and outdated attitudes to compliance costs. Here’s the thing, though: Studies show that compliance with the ADA — at least in the form of providing reasonable accommodations to allow those with disabilities to perform their jobs — is not that expensive after all. In 2009, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission pulled together various statistics and studies on the cost of reasonable accommodations, as part of the process of drafting regulations to implement the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA). Those studies show significant variations in the reported mean cost of an accommodation, ranging from $462 up to more than $1,400. Where the studies agree, however, is that many accommodations — the majority, in some studies — are free.

In response to reader questions and search popularity, we recently added a Reasonable Accommodations page, with articles on the right to accommodation and specific accommodations for a variety of disabilities. For detailed information on accommodations for dozens of disabilities, along with compliance assistance, check out the website of the Job Accommodation Network.

Yahoo’s Ban on Working From Home

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you probably heard about Yahoo’s recent decision to prohibit employees from working from home. The ban, intended to promote collaboration and innovation, will start in June. Almost all of the news coverage I’ve heard and read has focused on a few angles:

  • Is innovation really harmed when employees work from home? (The consensus: yes, but productivity is higher when employees work from home, in certain jobs at least.)
  • Is this the start of a trend? (To quote the Magic Eight Ball, “my sources say no.” The trade-off makes sense only for companies that must innovate constantly to succeed: the serial innovators, as John Sullivan referred to them on the PBS NewsHour. And Yahoo needs to make some big changes to turn its fortunes around.)
  • Isn’t it kind of ironic that perhaps the most famous working mom — other than Michelle Obama — instituted this policy? (You be the judge. Over at the Daily Beast, Ellen Galinsky points out that men are more likely than women to work mainly  from home, and more likely to be allowed to work from home.)

All interesting discussions. What interested me far more, however, was the memo that actually announced the change, sent out by Yahoo’s head of HR (and reproduced here at AllThingsD). If I were a Yahoo employee — or just a Yahoo, as the memo puts it — who had been working from home, and I received this memo, I would be pretty angry. I’m not sure if I would be angry enough to send it to the media, as a number of Yahoos apparently did, despite the all caps heading tagging the memo as “PROPRIETARY AND CONFIDENTIAL — DO NOT FORWARD.” But angry for sure.

The change in policy is bad enough from an employee perspective, especially considering that some employees may have taken the job (or turned down other offers) because of the opportunity to work from home — and arranged their lives accordingly, from child care to pet ownership to buying or renting a home that’s too far away to commute regularly. No matter where you come down on the innovation/productivity argument, or whether you think this change will ultimately help Yahoo rebound, it’s clear that an employee benefit is being taken away.

Which must have made the odd cheerleading tone of the memo hard to take. There’s no acknowledgment that this might be difficult or unwelcome for some employees. There are, however, many references to the company’s culture and identity, from what “being a yahoo” is all about to the need “to be one Yahoo!” to the company’s effort “to become the absolute best place to work.” There’s also an admonition that even Yahoos who “occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy” must use their “best judgment in the spirit of collaboration.” Seriously? Does that mean missing even a few hours of work could harm the company’s success? Could they have come up with a more frivolous reason to miss work? Using the official announcement of what is sure to be an unpopular change in company policy to tout what a “productive, efficient and fun” place you are to work is the kind of HR speak that gets internal memos sent to news outlets by angry employees. I’m just sayin’.