Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's recent firing of a New York City employee after he spied a game of solitaire on the man's computer screen was a high-profile reminder of the risks workers face when they mix work and play.
Still, prohibiting online games or other personal computer activity during working hours is rare among companies, some experts said.
"Those companies are still in the minority," said employment lawyer Robert Lipman of Lipman & Plesur in Jericho, N.Y.
He said most of his firm's corporate clients permit employees to shop online or play games once in a while. The policies are a nod to societal changes, he said, particularly because surveys indicate that more and more people shop electronically.
"Most companies understand that and want to be tolerant," he said. But he added, "They don't want employees to abuse that time."
Building such flexibility into computer policies benefits companies, said Hal G. Gueutal, associate professor of management at the University of Albany.
For example, giving employees the option of shopping online means they are likely to remain at their desks during lunch and be available for questions.
But a blurring of work and play could pose dangers for a company, said attorney Allen Breslow. For example, if an employee sexually harasses a colleague with online materials accessed at work, the company could be held liable, Breslow said.
Besides, he said, online activity unrelated to work "is a waste of company resources, and it's a theft of time."
Bloomberg sounded a similar theme when he was asked at a city news conference after the incident if he had overreacted by firing Edward Greenwood IX, 39, an assistant in the city's lobbying office in Albany on Jan. 30. The mayor spied solitaire on Greenwood's computer screen during a visit to the office.
"We pay city employees to do the work that the public expects done, and your workplace is not an appropriate place for games," he said.
But Gueutal and others believe the mayor overreacted. "It did seem like a knee-jerk reaction," he said. "I think it has a chilling effect on other employees, and it wouldn't be something I would recommend to any of my clients."
Carrie Mason-Draffen writes for Newsday. Bryan Virasami contributed to this article.