Pokémon GO: A contemporary example of how new technology can impact the workplace

By now you have likely heard of the new gaming phenomenon sweeping the globe: Pokémon GO. This is an augmented reality game that can be downloaded for free by anyone with a smartphone. 

In essence, Pokémon GO requires users to explore their local city with their phones. By visiting different areas, certain rewards or objectives can be received. The Pokémon (or digital creatures) can only be seen by users on their phone and are displayed over the camera picture of the local environment (thus the "augmented" nature of the game). This has led to some odd outcomes. For instance, a police station in Darwin Australia has had to tell players to keep out and catch Pokémon elsewhere. In another case, the National Holocaust Museum in Washington DC has been forced to remind visitors that it is not an appropriate venue for gaming.

For employers, Pokémon GO has provided some great real world examples of how the introduction of a new technology can impact the workforce. Consider the following:

Off-duty conduct leads to dismissal

Many employers are now well aware that the off-duty conduct of their employees, may (in the right circumstances) justify dismissal.

Recently, in Singapore, just such a situation occurred. One of the common complaints about Pokémon GO has been its slow rollout worldwide. This led one individual, Sonny Truyen, to go on an expletive fuelled rant on Facebook complaining about the lack of the game in Singapore and further making disparaging remarks about the country. Mr. Truyen was confronted online by another Facebook user about his comments, which led him to make further disparaging remarks about Singapore. Someone then made a caption of the conversation and it went viral.

Many people were offended by Mr. Truyen's remarks and tracked down his place of employment, 99.co, a Singaporean property company. 99.co's company Facebook page was then bombarded with statements about Mr. Truyen's comments:

Why is your vice president Sonny Truyen insulting Singaporeans? Is this how your company conducts business?

So this is the kind of 'talent' that we are supporting? Someone who humiliates and insults the country who gave him a job? Shameful?

Will definitely boycott 99.co if the high and might Sonny is still in 99.co

The negative attention drawn to the company proved to be too much. On the same weekend that Mr. Truyen made his remarks, company CEO Darius Cheung was forced to make a public apology wherein he disavowed Mr. Truyen's comments and informed the world that Mr. Truyen had been dismissed from the company.

Would Mr. Truyen's actions justify a dismissal for cause? Perhaps, but as a similar case from Hydro One last year reminds us, just cause is not an easy thing to prove. Regardless, non-unionized employers always have the right to end employment without cause to quickly respond to a perceived public relations problem.

The Pokémon flu?

The 'blue flu' is an old workplace problem where employees conveniently get sick on Fridays, Mondays or around the time of a long weekend. These days, Pokémon GO may be the new source of lowered workplace productivity and increased absenteeism.

Closer to home, the Ottawa Citizen recently reported on individuals missing work and playing the game for hours on end. Likewise, huge swaths of internet advice articles have popped up with the general theme of how to play Pokémon Go at work (without getting fired). These have also led to some great images, like this one from a particularly frustrated employer: 

(Source: http://www.thehrdigest.com/how-to-plat-pokemon-go-at-work/

If you find that your workplace has become infected by the 'Pokémon Flu,' consider implementing these effective remedies:

  • Provide a friendly reminder to staff about when and where they can play the game - a reference to some of the positive tips in online articles like this might be a good way to address the problem without seeming draconian; 
  • Check your social media and device policies to ensure they cover acceptable conduct during working hours and what type of programs can be downloaded on work-provided devices; and 
  • If you notice repeated lateness or questionable time booked off for 'sickness,' take action - document and speak to workers about the importance of timely attendance and, where appropriate, request medical confirmation to support absence from the workplace.

This article was originally published on July 19, 2016 by First Reference Talks.

Vey Willetts LLP is an Ottawa-based employment and labour law firm that provides timely and cost-effective legal advice to help employees and employers resolve workplace issues in the National Capital Region and across Ontario. Contact us at: 613-238-4430 or info@vwlawyers.ca