Less than a week after the same decision prompted a walkout from workers at Activision-Blizzard, Riot has apparently lifted a mandate on COVID-19 vaccinations, testing, and masks for those working out of its Los Angeles office.
Waypoint has a report on the subject, where it talked to two current and one former employee about the shifts the League of Legends developer has instituted. According to the outlet, Riot Games Chief Security Officer Christopher Hymes messaged workers that operate out of the LA office on Slack explaining the company was making these changes, along with working on a broader push for Riot workers to return to the LA office this week. This push requires LA workers to be in the office on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursdays, while being allowed to work from home on Monday and Friday. The changes come alongside the city of Los Angeles dropping indoor mask mandates.
A Riot spokesperson sent Waypoint the following statement:
“Early on in the pandemic, we committed to following the public health recommendations from state and local government entities. Recently, state and local regulations have updated their COVID-19 recommendations, including vaccination and mask mandate requirements, so Riot followed their lead,” the statement reads. “In accordance with LA County health orders, Riot strongly encourages, but does not require, all individuals to wear a face covering while on Riot’s property. That said, we know that some Rioters will feel more comfortable wearing masks, and we want our campus to be a place where people feel safe to take whatever precautions best fit their needs. We are encouraging Rioters to have open communication and to be empathetic and accommodating toward those colleagues who prefer masking up.”
The company told Waypoint it had seen “a lot of enthusiasm” regarding the pivot back to office work and says it’s taken extra measures, such as COVID-19 cleaning protocols, a new air filtration system, contact tracing, daily health risk assessment, and is giving N95 masks to those who ask for them. The optional mask rule becomes no longer optional if a person has had close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Then they are required to wear a mask for 10 days. Those who test positive themselves are told not to come into work, but without testing, there’s no means of ensuring workers are actually reporting any symptoms or positive results. Employees were also told to tell non-masked workers to wear a mask if it made them more comfortable, but that puts the burden on the individual being forced to work at the office, not the company to simply have more universal protections for its workers. As pointed out in Waypoint’s story, this is all in line with Los Angeles’ local government protocols, but as the outlet’s sources say, this isn’t a unanimous decision, and some employees have even left the company as a result of its return to offices.
“While we hate to lose valuable team members, we’ve always expected that some Rioters would choose to leave because they wanted to work remotely on a permanent basis,” a Riot spokesperson told Waypoint. “One of the reasons we’ve been so transparent about our approach is to ensure that Rioters are armed with all of the information they need to make career decisions that are right for them.”
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Along with all of the above, Riot has required workers to carry around an RFID tag, which allows for easy contact tracing as it helps to keep track of who is coming into contact with other workers, but even that system still requires people to report if they have symptoms or have tested positive.
“A couple times I’ve received emails about ‘someone on campus you walked by had COVID’ and I appreciate getting that notification,” an anonymous source told Waypoint. “Unfortunately, as you might guess, all of this is now entirely predicated on self-reporting, since there are no covid safety mandates basically. So who knows how useful those’ll be now.”
Despite all of the systems in place and the signs encouraging social distancing, it’s simply not possible for workers to remain properly distanced for their entire workday when they’re all required to be on Riot’s LA campus. There are ways for workers to get around the return to office mandate, but Waypoint’s sources described the process of getting approved as confusing. Riot says they’re handled on a case-by-case basis.
“Reasonable accommodations based on medical needs are part of a formalized process that is managed by the Benefits team. If a Rioter believes that they have circumstances that prohibit them from being able to return to campus – such as certain medical conditions or medical caretaking responsibilities—we encourage them to share those concerns with their manager and HR business partner to discuss what accommodations or leaves are available based on their specific needs,” Riot’s spokesperson told Waypoint. “We know that every individual’s situation is different, so all requests are evaluated on a case by case basis.”
Prior to their return to office, Riot workers had a dedicated Slack channel called “Riot Unplugged,” which was used by workers to ask management questions. However, the channel has since been shut down, meaning employees now don’t have a designated, semi-public space to inquire about things like the returning to office and the removal of mask and vaccination mandates, though Waypoint’s sources aren’t so sure it was because of the return to office issues, specifically.
“The deletion of the direct feedback/communication channel is certainly timely (and annoying), it wasn’t because of this,” a source said. “Annoyingly timely though.”
Whether these issues result in a walkout similar to Activision-Blizzard remains to be seen (the company is no stranger to such displays), but hopefully those uncomfortable with the entire setup are able to find some way to make their feelings heard, or find a new job where these anxieties are no longer an issue.
[Disclaimer: Both Riot Games and Fanbyte are owned by the same parent company, Tencent.]