Employer’s Legal Issues: Pokemon Go At Work.
By Sandra Wieder Cohen
© 2016 Cohen & Buckmann pc
This viral video game has swept millions of players into catching Pokemon monsters all over the U.S. and elsewhere, through its integration of a computerized map system and augmented reality interface. It has some employers asking whether there are legal implications if their Employees are playing Pokemon Go at work.
Distraction & Discipline: Some businesses may find that playing Pokemon Go has brought people together (Go Team Valor!). And some have even developed new loyalty from customers, by taking advantage of a lucky Pokestop location to encourage players to step inside to shop. But for many others, it has been a distraction for workers, who have become compulsively addicted to this game, stealing glances at their phones and slipping away from their desks to visit the nearest Pokestop.
As a manager, you understand that employees are human, may tend to limits and act "creatively" in workplace situations. So employers need a strategy for developing, communicating and enforcing a set of policies and practices that reflect the employer’s standards of acceptable workplace behavior. If an employer plays favoritism, and imposes penalties unevenly, it may lead to a claim of unfair discrimination. Be fair.
Accidents – Workers Compensation: This summer, there may be an uptick in injuries if workers, glued to their phones, do not notice workplace hazards. However, the injury might not be covered by worker’s compensation if the employer can show that the worker was playing Pokemon Go at the time of the accident.
Third-Party Liability: Employers face serious liability for third-party injuries caused by employee negligence. The potential for vehicular accidents caused by playing Pokemon Go while driving is obvious: distracted driving is dangerous and deadly. If an employee is working on behalf of the employer, a negligent accident can result in liability for the employer.
Trespass: The game encourages players to move around throughout the real world, in search of Pokestops to collect rewards, gyms for battles, and Pokemon to collect. While Pokestops and Gyms are intended to be located only at public spaces, some errors have been noted. If an Employer location is semi-public, such as a university, hospital or historic place, it may find Pokemon players wandering onto its property to catch a Jigglypuff. It is possible to contact the game’s developer, Niantic, Inc. to request the removal of the problematic Pokestop or gym.
Bottom line: If it’s a healthy mental break for employees, there is nothing wrong with that. But if the game has become a distraction, and interfering with productive work time, or creating hazardous situations, then it is time to install, or revitalize, fair guidelines for worker breaks and behavior.
Author note: Sandra Wieder Cohen, Esq. is a Partner at Cohen & Buckmann pc in New York, and an employment lawyer who specializes in executive compensation and employee benefits matters. She has only achieved Level 15 on Pokemon Go at the time of this article, because she has been too busy at work to evolve her Pokemon. www.cohenbuckmann.com