Employers May Need to Revisit Productivity Policies This Summer In Light of "Pokémon Go" and Other Potential Distractions

Employers across the country may notice distracted employees and lower productivity levels this summer.  One potential distraction that has garnered significant media coverage is a smart phone application called “Pokémon Go.”[1]  Employers are already noticing the application’s effects on employee productivity,[2] and coupled with other major events happening this summer, now may be an appropriate time for employers to revisit policies regarding cell phone and internet usage while on the clock.  This article analyzes employee distractions, and how employers should revisit productivity policies and ensure that management follows best workplace practices when enforcing such policies.

This Summer’s Employee Distractions

In addition to Pokémon Go, three other major events will likely increase employee distractions this summer.  The Republican National Convention will take place July 18-21, 2016 and the Democratic National Convention will take place July 25-28, 2016.  While national conventions are nothing new, for the first time Twitter will live stream both conventions,[3] and employees will be able to follow the conventions online and via their smart phones. 

Another major distraction will likely be the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.  Running August 5-21, 2016, NBC will stream a majority of the Rio Games.[4]  NBC streamed much of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London; however, the Rio Games will largely take place during the United States’ traditional working hours and employers may encounter more employees checking results or even watching events while on the clock.

Employers Should Revisit Productivity Policies and Follow Best Practices

As a result of the increased distractions, employers will likely experience decreased productivity levels at times this summer.  Employers have a right to require employees to work while on the job, and now may be the right time to revisit, revise, and/or draft policies regarding cell phone and internet usage while working.  Employers implementing and/or enforcing such policies should follow best workplace practices, including: (1) training management on the proper use of such policies and make sure managers are following the policies to set a proper example; (2) ensuring employees understand the policies and what behavior is acceptable; (3) documenting any coachings and verbal warnings; (4) following applicable progressive discipline policies; and (5) treating employees consistently.[5]  As always, employers should consult with their labor and employment counsel when considering revisions to existing or drafting new policies regarding cell phone and internet usage while on the job.

 

[1] Pokémon Go is a game that requires users to use their smart phone to map and catch creatures called “Pokémon.”  Users may then interact with each other via social media.  While the application debuted on July 6, 2016, it already has as many active users as Twitter and is the most popular download on Android devices.  See Joseph Schwartz, Pokémon GO: The Data Behind America’s Latest Obsession, Similar Web – Digital Vision (July 10, 2016) (available at https://www.similarweb.com/blog/pokemon-go) (last accessed July 14, 2016). 

[2] Adrian Marcano, ‘Pokémon GO’ is Disrupting Business and Bosses are Not Having It, Inverse (July 8, 2016) (available at https://www.inverse.com/article/18052-pokemon-go-signs-pop-up-at-businesses) (last accessed July 14, 2016). 

[3] Brian Stelter, Twitter to live stream the conventions through a deal with CBSN, CNN Money (July 11, 2016) (available at http://money.cnn.com/2016/07/11/media/twitter-cbs-news-live-streaming/index.html) (last accessed July 14, 2016).

[4] See NBC Olympics Streaming Schedule (available at http://www.nbcolympics.com/live-stream-schedule) (last accessed July 14, 2016). 

[5] Consistent treatment is especially important this summer where seemingly innocuous enforcement of the policy could be perceived as discrimination.  For example, an employer who gets annoyed by dropping productivity levels from employees streaming the Republican National Conventions during work hours and decides to start enforcing the policy the following week during the Democratic National Convention may face a discrimination lawsuit in states that protect employees based on political affiliation.

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