Employee Rights in the Wild West

By Kathryn Adderley
24 Oct 2018

Rockstar Games recently made headlines, not because of its long-awaited new release Red Dead Redemption 2 however, but because of allegations of a Wild West atmosphere in their workplace.

Some of the reports coming from the studio are particularly animated, and claim employees are working 100+ hour weeks, expected to perform overtime as standard (including weekends), and that there is a culture of fear when pushing out a new game. Other reports claim that the studio is a fantastic place to work, and overtime is available, as is work over the weekends, but isn’t mandatory. With such conflicting reports it is hard to pin down the reality of the situation, but one thing Rockstar have done is encourage employee feedback to try and get a proper grasp on the current atmosphere.

US and UK working legislation differ in many respects, which raises the question: can these issues be found in UK workplaces, or are they restricted to those working on the frontier?

The working week

UK legislation dictates that adult employees cannot work more than 48 hours a week on average over a 17-week reference period, unless they opt out of the 48-hour week. There are some exceptions to this rule, such as:

  • A workplace that requires 24-hour staffing, i.e. a care home
  • Armed forces & emergency services
  • Security and surveillance roles
  • Working at sea
  • If you are self-employed and have control over your own hours
  • An agreement with your workforce extending the reference period, up to 52 weeks
  • Young workers who legally can’t work more than 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week.

If you force an employee to work more than 48 hours a week, you are breaking the law, and a case can be made against you at an employment tribunal. Similarly, if you pressure an employee into working more hours than they are contracted to perform, as appears to be the case for Rockstar games, an employee could hand in their notice and claim constructive dismissal.

Culture of fear

Some employees of Rockstar claimed there was a culture of fear during what they called ‘Crunch Time’, referring to the period building up to the release of a new game.

Fear-based tactics can drive results like no other method, but the effect it has on the workforce can be devastating, and it could ultimately land you in very hot water. Fear is a short-term motivator, but a long-term drain on morale. Employees can become resentful of leadership, and their work can suffer as a result, or they could simply choose to find employment elsewhere.

Don’t believe us? A recent Croner Twitter Survey found that work environment was the most common reason employees quit their current job.

What can be done?

Sometimes it isn’t clear if your workplace is run by fear or not, so here are a few signs that you can look out for:

  • Do you or your team-leaders micromanage?
  • Does communication get passed down the chain of command, but not back up, or across departments?
  • Are employees more focused on their daily goals than their long-term targets?
  • Are employees (and leaders) ranking individuals against one another?
  • Is your staff turnover rate high? Also, when an employee leaves, do their colleagues speak about them?

If the answer to any of these questions is ‘yes’, it may be worth communicating with employees and trying to establish where things are going wrong. In a healthy workplace trust is key, leaders must learn to delegate properly (not overloading employees), coach their teams and encourage communication without filters. This is one thing Rockstar have done in light of the allegations against them, showing they are ready to listen to the criticism they have received.

In terms of legality, a court case at the beginning of the year ruled in favour of an employee who worked in a culture of fear, despite the fact she fabricated details on work-related documentation. This shows that a culture of fear, while not necessarily direct bullying or harassment (which is deemed unlawful under the Equality Act 2010) can still lead to a successful tribunal claim being made.

Expert Support

If you have concerns with any of the topics raised in this article, or have a HR issue you need expert advice on, speak to one of Croner’s consultants on 0808 145 3382.


About the Author

Kathryn Adderley

Kathryn Adderley is Croner's Senior Content Executive, responsible for producing, sourcing, and organising content across the website. She has a background of working agency side as a copywriter in the marketing industry and is also responsible for Croner's social media channels, so keep your eyes peeled for fresh content!

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