A NEW LOOK AT WORKPLACE LAW AS SEEN THROUGH THE EYES OF AN EMPLOYMENT LAWYER AND FORMER JOURNALIST. FIT FOR EMPLOYERS, EMPLOYEES, AND EVERYONE IN BETWEEN

Can common sense be caught? Not if you're fired for playing Pokemon

Can common sense be caught? Not if you're fired for playing Pokemon

I'll be the first to admit that this latest Pokemon internet craze completely eludes me. I have been proudly stating that I was too old for Pokemon the first time it was cool nearly two decades ago, and have frankly never played the game nor seen the television cartoon. 

Yet, it sadly is not all that shocking to see that an employee was terminated in Asia this week over his frustration at being unable to play Pokemon while working abroad. 

Flickr\Eduardo Woo

Flickr\Eduardo Woo

The website Mashable.com is reporting that an Australian digital marketing specialist who was working in Singapore grew frustrated when he couldn't play Pokemon Go in Singapore (the game is only available in certain countries). When he posted an expletive-laden Facebook status (which I will not re-print), he subsequently engaged in a 'flame war' (the internet version of a children's sandbox fight) with a Singaporean native and proceeded to insult both the country and its citizens.

However, when the exchange was captured and re-posted on an internet forum, angry Singapore residents discovered the man's identity, and learned that he was a consultant for a large website. The wesbite, 99.co, was then bombarded with complaints over the man's employment. The site immediately posted a notice disengaging themselves from the consultant (who was only newly retained in the position) and stated that it would not condone such conduct. The consulting relationship has since been terminated, and the man publicly asked "if everyone could stop the witch hunt there and leave them alone" before deleting his own social media account. 

While the facts may be worth a chuckle at first glance, the deeper lessons here are ones to be mindful of. This did not occur in Canada, but we have had notable similar incidents of off-duty conduct leading to repercussions in the workplace.

Most notably, in 2015 a Hydro One employee was terminated after he appeared on a television newscast yelling obscenities at a television reporter following a sporting event. The employee was reinstated six months later following an arbitration process, but not before a tremendous amount of negative publicity surrounded both the individual and his employer. This was not an isolated incident, with several others specifically involving social media postings.

In an era where technology is almost impossible to avoid, employees must remember that they are never entirely 'off the clock.' Social media postings that are insulting, defamatory, harassing or bullying such as the one in this case are not only in poor taste and may have other legal consequences, but they are also more than likely today to come to an employer's attention.

These incidents are more connected to the workplace than one might think, especially if the employer is subsequently barraged with complaints, such as 99.co was. Additionally, social media usage while at work can be seen by many employers are a form of 'time theft,' and may be in violation of social media workplace policies already in place. 

For employers, having good workplace policies are key. Not only is it worthwhile to have solid policies about social media usage at work (and yes, these can include games such as Pokemon Go as well as Facebook etc.), but having policies that lay out discipline for social media misuse will help to avoid surprise incidents in the future.

An employer who has never encountered this sort of situation would still be wise to prepare policies ahead of time, so they are not scrambling when such an incident does take place. Employment lawyers are experts who can work closely with employers to design policies that are custom tailored to the needs of their specific workplace. 

The bottom line - put down the cell phone, especially if you're supposed to be focusing on work. And please, if you're out trying to catch Pokemon, even on your lunch break, PLEASE WATCH WHERE YOU'RE WALKING!

Parlez-vous français? Non? Ahhh, c'est un petit problème...

Parlez-vous français? Non? Ahhh, c'est un petit problème...

"What do you say to that?" The word 'discrimination' comes to mind

"What do you say to that?" The word 'discrimination' comes to mind