New York, New York (PRWEB) September 30, 2012
As the hilarious "Gangnam Style" video has morphed into a worldwide cultural phenomena with unprecedented rapidity, employees who wish to lighten the mood of their workplace with a spoof of rapper PSY's antics should think twice about the potential consequences for their careers. Many employers appreciate - and in some instances encourage - group parodies as a means of building social cohesion and morale. For example, Samsung Electronics' internal communications channel sponsored a parody event, which led to the submission of some creative Gangnam Style spoofs by Samsung employees, some of which have become hits on YouTube.com.
However, not every employer is as culturally attuned as Samsung, and the consequences for some employees have been dire. The first reports of "Gangnam Style" pink slips occurred over the summer, when a group of lifeguards in El Monte, California, were fired from their jobs for producing a Gangnam parody video. The fact that the lifeguards' efforts were undertaken entirely after work hours was of no moment to the employer: the lifeguards were summarily fired, and left in the unenviable position of trying to live a Gangnam lifestyle without so much as a regular paycheck. One can only hope that they have all since been able to locate employers who are more attuned to pop culture and who have better senses of humor.
However, the Gangnam style California lifeguards were just the proverbial tip of the ever-growing Gangnam iceburg of workplace controversies. Today, groups of employees parodying the rapper SPY's lyrics and comical dance moves have galloped onto today's social scene in a manner reminiscent of the Village People's "YMCA" dance moves of the 1970's. A simple web search will turn up videos of varying groups, ranging from soldiers to flash mobs who, with widely varying levels of skill, parody the antics of PSY's outrageous Gangnam Style video.
Even the serious world of high finance has been infected with the Gangnam trend. Bloomberg Television host Matt Miller played "Gangnam Style" during his show because "it's just a super hot video that has gone astronomically viral." ('Gangnam Style', from S. Korea's Psy, Storms Web. Bloomberg. 2012-08-20. Retrieved 2012-09-26).
However, like the lifguards in El Monte,California, increasing numbers of American employees have discovered the harsh reality that their employers neither appreciate nor condone Gangnam spoofs. According to New York employment attorney Marc Rapaport, "employees who utilize company recources and time for non-work related tasks run the risk of being reprimanded and even terminated based on allegations of disloyalty." According to Rapaport, employees should apply "common sense" before organizing a Gangnam Style parody in their workplace. Rapaport notes that "in New York and most other American states, the vast majority of employees are "employees at will" who can be terminated without cause. The fact that a boss has no sense of humor will be of little solace for an employee if he or she loses their job for participating in a parody."
Rapaport, a New York employment attorney, is the founder and managing member of Rapaport Law Firm, PLLC, a full-service employment law firm based in New York City's Empire State Building. According to Rapaport, the firm has counseled both employees and employers regarding their rights and responsibilities regarding use of work hours and office materials for social activities. Rapaport encourages employers to permit social activities - such as Gangnam spoofs - that engender bonding and cohesiveness among employees. However, as with any group activity, each interaction carries risks for employees and employers alike. For employers and managers, the sexually suggestive dance movies and lyrics of Gangnam Style raise the risk that offended employees will file charges of sexual harassment.
According to Rapaport, "at the end of the day, major social phenomena are going to find their way into the workplace. That is reality. It is the responsibility of both employers and employees to ensure that they fulfill their obligations to maintain a safe and comfortable work environment - free of discrimination and harassment. Social interactions and group activities must be evaluated in the context of that obligation. The horseback riding moves of 'Gangnam Style' parodies may seem decidedly less humurous in the context of the rat race that characterizes employment lawsuits."
The wave of Gangnam Style hysteria shows no sign of ebbing. According to Wikipedia.com, the Gangnam Style music video has been viewed over 325 million times on YouTube as of September 30, 2012, making it the site's most watched Korean pop (K-pop) video. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gangnam_style, accessed on September 29, 2012). As the Gangnam trend continues, employers and employees in the United States should use caution to ensure that hilarity does not become a conduit for sexual harassment or other breaches of workplace rules and regulations.
Marc A. Rapaport is a New York employment lawyer with 18 years of experience, and he is the founder of Manhattan's Rapaport Law Firm, PLLC. Rapaport Law Firm represents employees in workplace litigation involving discrimination, retaliation, harassment, and wrongful termination throughout New York and New Jersey.