Question: Since Pokémon Go came out, my employees have been playing the game when business is slow, as well as during meal and rest breaks. This concerns me as a restaurant owner because the game has led some employees to wander around the restaurant’s dining room while guests are present, as well as around the restaurant’s kitchen, which is full of knives, boiling liquids, stove tops and busy kitchen staff. Can I prohibit my employees from playing this game while at work?
Answer: A July 2016 poll by Forbes.com found that 69% of over 60,000 respondents said they played Pokémon Go at work, while on duty. This is a phenomenon that employers need to be aware of so they can properly manage this activity at work. For those who are not familiar with the game, its premise is relatively basic: players have to find and capture imaginary creatures, called Pokémon. The novelty is that the Pokémon are hiding throughout the real world, requiring players to physically walk around to hunt them down using their mobile device’s camera and GPS. Respondents in the Forbes.com study reported the game helped them get more exercise and improve relationships with co-workers. Some businesses that have become virtual homes to exotic Pokémon have experienced an increase in business as patrons frequent the business to capture the Pokémon. While Pokémon Go may claim some workplace benefits, the game could also lead to a host of workplace perils including a decrease in employee productivity, and an increase in workplace injuries due to employee distraction.
You can prohibit employees from playing Pokémon Go and other games during work time, even when business is slow. Moreover, because other non-gaming applications on employees’ mobile devices can cause similar distractions, you may want to consider adopting a policy that prohibits employees from using personal mobile devices during work time—period. Also, if employees are required to drive for work-related purposes, such as to attend a catering event or pick up supplies, your policy should prohibit the use of mobile devices for texting, emailing or gaming while driving.
Prohibiting gaming or other mobile device use during meal and rest breaks is different. As a general rule, employers should not place restrictions on their non-exempt employee’s activities while they are on breaks. But, employers have a duty to provide a safe environment for employees and guests. Therefore, you may prohibit employees (and guests) from playing Pokémon Go on your premises. With such a policy in place, employees would be free to continue playing Pokémon Go during their meal and rest breaks, as long as they do so outside of your restaurant.
While Pokémon Go is the first of its kind, it probably will not be the last. Take this opportunity to remind employees about company policies concerning the personal use of mobile devices during work time, and the company’s commitment to the safety of its workforce and workplace. A simple policy informing employees of the rules is a good idea. The Forbes.com report provided this succinct example: “We are paying you to work, not to chase fictional video game characters with your phone all day. Save it for your break time or lunch. Otherwise you’ll have plenty of time unemployed to ‘catch them all.’”