Pokémon Go has taken Australia and the world by storm since its release earlier this month. The game sees users hunt for Pokémon using augmented reality technology and the GPS on their smartphones.

Pokémon Go in the workplace

Pokémon Go has also been prevalent in the workplace. This photo is purportedly from an exasperated manager, unhappy with employees who have been playing the game while at work. Workers have also taken to Twitter to tweet about catching Pokémon at work, or being late for work due to Pokémon Go related tasks.

Productivity

It is clear that this craze has the potential to impact on worker productivity. Most workers now have a smartphone, and keep their phones on them at all times during the working day.

It is clear that the line between personal time and work time in the office has also become more blurred. In Bowker v DP World Melbourne Limited [2014] FWCFB 9227, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) held that a worker was ‘at work’ for the purposes of the anti-bullying provisions in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) if they were:

  • performing work at any time or location; or
  • engaged in some other activity authorised or permitted by their employer (e.g. being on a meal break).

This means a worker accessing offensive comments posted about them by their colleagues on Facebook or Twitter during a lunchbreak could be bullied at work.

This is a good time for employers to review their social media and mobile phone policy, and remind employees of that policy in the context of crazes such as Pokémon Go.  An employee’s personal use of their smartphone to play games such as Pokémon Go or use of social media during work hours can be effectively managed using the employer’s social media and existing disciplinary policies and processes.

However, employers should not make decisions to issue a warning or terminate the employment of an employee without first considering whether there is a valid reason justifying the action. Employees should also be afforded procedural fairness.

In Richard O’Connor v Outdoor Creations Pty Ltd [2011] FWA 3081, an employee dismissed for excessive use of social media at work successfully established that the dismissal was unfair. At hearing, the employer failed to establish that the use of social media was excessive or that the employee was actually guilty of the alleged misconduct.

An employee’s views regarding the use of smartphones and social media are often different to their employer’s view. An employee may think nothing of taking a quick break from the desk to catch a Pidgey when it flies into the office, while an employer may think that this behaviour is highly inappropriate.

Aligning a worker’s expectations with the employer’s expectations is best managed by developing clear policies, and educating employees on those policies.

Health and Safety

Playing Pokémon Go requires the user to look down at their smartphone screen, which is where Pokémon appear.  This means that the game can obviously be highly distracting and take the players attention away from other tasks. The use of the game has already led to a number of incidents in which drivers have been distracted playing Pokémon Go.

The use of the game at the workplace obviously has implications for health and safety. We recommend organisations take the opportunity to remind workers of the high risk of injury that can occur when workers are using their smartphones and not concentrating on potential hazards or risks in the workplace, and remind workers of the existing policies and expectations around mobile phone use or update them to include reference to game playing or use of other apps.

Managing the issue

Organisations should ensure their policies:

  • manage employees’ expectations about how they will be dealt with in the event that they are found to be in breach and what the employer expects of them;
  • educate employees about the potential dangers of such devices and games; and
  • assist in discharging the obligations about maintaining a safe and healthy workplace.

As always, simply having a policy in place is never enough. Employees should be trained on the policy and managers should lead by example.

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