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Employers beware of the Pokémon Go craze

July 27, 2016

By Anthony Kaylin, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

Earlier this week we shared information on how your small business can benefit from Pokemon Go. Now, we share information you need to know as employers of those who may play the game.

Pokémon Go is a craze that has become a world phenomenon.  It is an obsessive game. At least two in California fell off cliffs playing the game and one was arrested while playing because he walked into a police station and an outstanding warrant was found against him.  In Indonesia a tourist was arrested for entering a restricted military area while playing the game.  It can also invade and cause havoc in the workplace—seeing employees walking all over the place with their cell phones catching the Pokémon.

The idea behind Pokémon Go is fairly simple.  By walking around your neighborhood, museums etc. a player can find the Pokémon.  There are PokéStops and Gyms which are located at local landmarks like churches or museums. PokéStops allow the player to collect experience or items. A PokéGym is a place where players can compete and earn points for their team.

Pokémon Go does not have beginner instructions, possibly because fewer instructions mean more social interaction to find out how to do things.  Once Pokémon Go is downloaded on the phone, the player has to set up an account, a user name and an avatar.  There are many options for the avatar and the player can pick gender, eye color, hair color, hair style, hat, pants, shirt and backpack style. Once the account set-up is complete the game can begin.

Now the fun starts.  Initially, the player will see three starter Pokémon spawn: Bulbasaur, Charmander, and Squirtle. The player can pick one of these Pokémon to catch, but once caught, the other two Pokémon will disappear. Finding the next Pokémon requires the player to go outside and walk around.  Pokémon tend to spawn in areas that are well-populated, like parks, tourist attractions and shopping centers.  Different Pokémon are found in different areas—water-type Pokémon will only show up near bodies of water, for example, while grass-type Pokémon can be found in parks.

So how does this simple, yet addicting game impact the worker and employer?  First, employers should review their social media and cell phone policies to ensure that game playing at work is prohibited.  But be careful. The NLRB’s liberal expansion of “concerted efforts” by employees and the fact that Pokémon is a social game could run employers’ policies into a wall if the players are discussing work issues.  The NLRB may reinstate employees terminated playing the game, especially if it is seen as a “common engagement tool” during work hours.

If employees are playing Pokémon on employer-owned phones, the policies need to specifically state what is acceptable and not on an employer-owned phone.  It is important that the policies include what can and cannot be downloaded.

Further, organizations should clearly identify and secure restricted access areas.  The Indonesians did not think the person playing Pokémon was trying to intentionally access the restricted area, but he was still arrested. If the restricted access locations are not clearly secured, there could be issues of security breaches, which could lead to lawsuits and bad press.  Further, since the phone is capturing information, data breaches could also result, especially if the player posts pictures of captures on social media sites.

There could also be issues of absenteeism during the day if employees take more than the allotted break time.  The game is addictive and the “one second, one second, I almost got it” could cause those issues.   On-the-job absenteeism needs to be addressed immediately otherwise it could get out of hand.  Five minutes late by multiple employees adds up.

Without going into too much detail, employees going around the workplace on work time could potentially lead to injury, OSHA reporting and Workers Compensation claims.

Finally, the Pokémon culture tends to be very risqué.  Therefore, jokes and statements about Pokémon need to be monitored to prevent harassment claims from arising.  As fun as Pokémon is, there are serious considerations that must be reviewed with legal counsel to ensure the least amount of distractions in the workplace.

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