“Pokemon Go” in the workplace

September 15, 2016

 

pokemon“Pokemon Go” has taken the United States and the rest of the world by storm, with an estimated 75 million downloads in just the first three weeks after its release earlier this summer.

For the uninitiated, “Pokemon Go” is an augmented reality game in which users try to capture, train, and battle digitally animated creatures (Pokemon) on their mobile devices.

Because users of the game often look at their smartphones or other mobile devices while walking about, there have been well-publicized incidents of injury and even death, as well as complaints of trespassing. One of the less-discussed impacts of the game, however, is the effect on the workplace and how employers can respond.

This article summarizes several of the legal and practical considerations that small businesses are facing in dealing with the “Pokemon Go” craze in the workplace.  However, as always, this article does not substitute for the advice of legal counsel.

Many employers complain that employees spend excess time at work looking at their smartphones.  It is not always easy to determine what workers are doing when looking at their small screens.

In response to one survey conducted by Forbes Magazine, 32 percent of respondents indicated they played “Pokemon Go” for more than one hour at work per day. If this is happening in your workplace, the impact on productivity is obvious.

Employers seeking to maintain productivity need to review, and possibly supplement, their social media policies to ensure that they prohibit or limit playing video games at work. Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all policy for all workplaces. The policy that works best will depend on a number of factors, including the culture of the worksite and job duties of the employees in question.

The easiest policy to enforce is a complete ban on playing “Pokemon Go” and other games in the workplace. However, if companies are averse to such a ban, they can explore more relaxed policies that allow employees to play during breaks.

On the other hand, some employers may decide to fully embrace the fad and allow employees to play for set amounts of time outside of normal lunch and coffee breaks. Employers should keep in mind, however, that enforcement of permissive policies can be difficult and must be enforced consistently for all employees.

Any policy allowing “Pokemon Go” play at the worksite should address the physical movement and activity associated with finding and capturing Pokemon. In addition to being distracting, employees wandering through the workplace while staring at their devices may cause injury to themselves or others. This can also be viewed as unprofessional if an employee is playing the game offsite at a client’s or other worksite.

Any injury can result in workers’ compensation insurance or possible tort claims. Although an OSHA citation and penalty following an employee injury seems remote, it is not entirely out of the realm of possibility for workplaces with hazardous processes.

One of the most frequent critiques of “Pokemon Go” is that it has led to an uptick in trespassing on private property. Some companies may encourage such as retailers and restaurants may encourage such visits. However, in other industries including agriculture or construction industry, trespassing can present a safety risk to both trespassers and employees.

To reduce the likelihood of players visiting worksites, a business can request removal of any Pokestop or Gym on the premises through the game manufacturer’s website.

To play “Pokemon Go,” an individual must sign up through their Google account or create a Pokemon Trainer Club account. For companies that issue devices to employees or that utilize Google Apps for Business, permitting “Pokemon Go” on the device may present information security risks, including the possibility of data breaches.

The International Association of IT Asset Managers has called on companies “to ban the installation and use of “Pokemon Go” on corporate devices. Employers with “bring your own device” programs should consider whether to extend the ban to participating personal mobile devices.

The “Pokemon Go” craze shows no signs of abating and other augmented games for mobile devices may follow. Taking the steps suggested above can help employers address the workplace issues that augmented gaming present today and into the future.

Bruce Sarchet is an attorney with the firm of Littler Mendelson and represents employers in labor and employment law matters.  You can contact him at bsarchet@littler.com.

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