The New York Times ran an interesting piece yesterday about employees who play online games, like Sudoku at work. In days past, you might find an employee playing an occasional game of Minesweeper. But the article asserts that with high-speed connections with easy access, employees are taking advantage of that infrastructure to play more interactive games, like World of Warcraft.
How many employees are playing? The article provides some insights:
A 2006 study by Forrester Research estimated that 4 of every 10 adults in North America played online games. This summer, a survey… indicated that 24 percent of respondents said they played such games at work.
Jim Greer, founder …[of] an online game company in San Francisco, said its statistics indicate that peak game times are in the middle of the workday. Mr. Greer said that the site topped out at 800,000 users around 1 p.m. each day, and added that the site registers a significant drop-off in traffic after 5 p.m. Eastern time. “We don’t know for certain that all of those people are at work, but most people work between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.,” he said. “You do the math.”
Is this a problem in the workplace in Connecticut? Well, Connecticut is no different from the rest of the country. Employees in Connecticut take breaks like other employees; taking breaks during work is, and should be, a customary occasion. (Providing meal periods are required under state law.) . After all, terms like "the coffee break" or "smoking break" didn’t arise overnight. In that context, going online for 10-15 minutes during a scheduled break may be as harmless as running to a Starbucks for a frappuccino. But where playing games becomes an obsession for hours on end, the employer should take a greater role.
Thus, can an employer in Connecticut conduct electronic monitoring of its employees? The answer is a definite yes. But, of course, the answer is a bit more complicated. Connecticut has an electronic monitoring statute, Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 31-48d, that allows for such monitoring if (with very limited exceptions) the employees have prior written notice of such monitoring.
To provide the notice, the employer must indicate the types of monitoring which may occur, such as telephonic, key strokes, general computer usage, etc. Each employer must post this in a conspicuous place (typically, where an employer has its other "bulletin board" notices, like the minimum wage rate). Putting a reference in an employee handbook is also a wise precaution in case the notice ever gets removed from the board (and it should be noted that notice in a handbook is likely sufficient under the terms of the statute.) .
If an employer does not routinely monitor employees the employer can still conduct the monitoring in situations where "(A) an employer has reasonable grounds to believe that employees are engaged in conduct which (i) violates the law, (ii) violates the legal rights of the employer or the employer’s employees, or (iii) creates a hostile workplace environment."
Nevertheless, because electronic monitoring now is quite common (even an internet filter could be considered such monitoring), the best and safest strategy for most employers is for employers to post the notice with nearly every option checked.
The DOL has a sample poster for employers to use on their newly designed website.