With one company threatening dismissal if the game is played in work and Boeing finding it had been downloaded 100 times on company mobiles, Law at Work’s legal adviser Paman Singh reflects on whether employers should be considering a Pokémon policy
In the early days of this millennium, Pikachu and his friends radically altered the landscape of children’s entertainment. The Pokémon game was a global phenomenon and set off a craze unseen before in schools across the country.
As with all crazes, it eventually fizzled out, with children moving onto the next big thing. Pokémon was to become another nostalgic notch in our memories, a fond recollection of a simpler time.
The makers of the game had other ideas. Having adapted to modern technology, Nintendo unleashed Pokémon Go in the middle of July. Millions of those children who played the original games and traded cards with each other have been swept up in the new reality augmented app which allows players to use the GPS on their smart devices so they can roam and ‘catch’ characters.
The uptake of the game has been so staggering and the addictiveness of the experience so great that employers may want to revisit workplace policies to prevent a workplace distraction becoming a workplace hazard. How should an employer react if an employee is found wandering around a warehouse hunting for the rare Mewtoo or Snorlax? Perhaps a delivery driver decides to multitask and ‘catch ‘em’ whilst driving? These may sound like unrealistic scenarios; however, Boeing issued a memo to its workforce banning play during work hours after a member of staff was nearly seriously injured whilst playing the game. Further investigation revealed that the game had been installed on more than 100 company devices.
So what should an employer do, is there really a need for a Pokémon policy? There may be a need, however, it is more likely that there are existing policies in place which cover the Pokémon Go craze. Employers should pay particular attention to the following areas:
Playing the game during work
Employers may have a policy in place prohibiting excessive device usage and internet surfing. They will also have the right to manage employees whose performance falls due to the game or discipline those who use company time for personal leisure.
Health and Safety
Obviously, playing any game whilst driving is dangerous. If a business has employees who drive during the course of their work, there should already be a policy in place prohibiting the use of mobile devices whilst driving. Players often need to chase Pokémon while looking at their smartphones. This could conceivably cause a problem in a warehouse or on company premises which has industrial machines. Employees should be made aware that they are expected to be aware of their surroundings at all times, even if they are off the clock, and should bear in mind the Company’s Health and Safety policy.
The app allows you to see and catch Pokémon with a phone’s camera, integrating the real and virtual world. This may sound harmless when taking a picture of a cartoon animal in a park. Things may get a little more complicated if an employee takes a picture of a Pokémon they caught in the boardroom and posts the picture on Facebook. Many companies prohibit photography in the workplace, and colleagues may not take kindly to being part of a co-worker’s Pokémon collection. Furthermore, a Pokémon hunter walking around the workplace looking at the camera will be disruptive and could make some co-workers uncomfortable, feeling they are being recorded. It may also not project a professional image of the company to any clients who happen to be on site, particularly if an employee bumps into them on a hunt.
This is a hotspot for where a player may replenish their stash of supplies to collect Pokémon. An employer’s company premises may have the dubious honour of being a Pokéstop, meaning that employees may come in whilst not on shift or even bring children with them out of hours. Although this may sound unrealistic, so far, players have found Pokéstops in a cemetery, a Hell’s Angels club and a Holocaust museum. Pokéstops appear to be generated at random; therefore employers should make clear whether off duty access to company premises is permitted as well as clarifying any rules on bringing children to work.
Although some employees may push the boundaries of what is acceptable workplace conduct, most employees will follow clear and concise rules which are well communicated. It is not however recommended that you follow the lead of one employer who sent an internal memo to staff, warning them not to play Pokémon Go during work hours, or they would have plenty of time whilst unemployed to “catch ‘em all”.
Paman Singh is a legal adviser at Law At Work.