Malaysian employees sacked over Pokemon Go

A man sitting on a sidewalk plays Pokemon Go in Singapore on Aug 11, 2016.
A man sitting on a sidewalk plays Pokemon Go in Singapore on Aug 11, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

MALAYSIA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - It has fired up gamers all over Malaysia. But now, Pokemon Go has led to some being fired.

The game has proven to be a huge hit in Malaysia, but it is game over for some who persistently played it during working hours.

Six employers have dismissed workers for playing the popular location-based game while at work, a survey by the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) revealed.

MEF executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan said the poll on the impact of the game on workers was taken among 150 employers in various sectors.

"Based on our preliminary findings, six employers, or 4 per cent of the 150 companies, admitted that workers who indulged too much in the game have been dismissed," he told Sunday Star.

Other actions taken by employers included advising employees against playing the game during work hours, issuing warning letters and imposing suspensions from work without pay.

The survey also showed that employers are taking a strong stance against the game with 95 per cent of the respondents saying they do not allow employees to access the app at work.

"Some 96 per cent also prohibit workers from using the company e-mail address to sign up for the game," Mr Shamsuddin said.

The survey found that 25 per cent of bosses have caught employees playing the game during work hours.

"Some 11 per cent of employers also claim that their workers are taking a longer lunch break because of the game," he said, adding that 50 per cent of poll participants were from the manufacturing sector while the rest were from other industries.

Employers are also taking it a step further, with 54 per cent wanting to request that game developer Niantic Labs remove PokeStops and Gyms near their offices or workplace.

PokeStops are spots for players to replenish game items while PokeGyms are where players can go to battle and train their monsters.

The popular game, which requires players to move around in real life to catch not-so-real "pocket monsters", or Pokemon, has been received with open arms by Malaysians since its launch on Aug 6.

As it continues to "level up" on popularity, the game has spawned a culture of people walking around in search of cyber monsters in their homes, parks, workplaces, commercial areas and even places of worship.

But the addictive, augmented reality game is worrying to the MEF for fear that employees will not be giving their best at work.

Mr Shamsuddin said 5 per cent of employers also found their workers to be breaching the company’s restricted areas to catch the monsters in the game.

However, on the flip side, some 19 per cent of employers in the survey – including those in the food and beverage industry – found that the game is good for business.

"Most employers are still trying to assess the situation. It is too early for us to set a standard policy for all employers on Pokemon Go," said Mr Shamsuddin.

He said that while the hype about the game has fizzled out compared to when it was first launched, employers should adopt a stand that discourages employees from playing on work premises so that it will not affect work performance.

Event director and Pokemon Go enthusiast Syafiq Nizar Radzi said playing the game during working hours is "extremely unprofessional".

"Employers should be professional too and strict warnings should been given to the errant worker. But if they refuse to adapt to company policy after that, then a dismissal sounds completely fair," he said.

Mr Syafiq Nizar said that extending lunch hours for any reason is also unprofessional and it is best to keep any recreational activities outside working hours.

A company executive who wanted to be known only as Jean, 31, said employers have every right to ban their employees from playing the game.

"Some companies have even banned their workers from going on Facebook.

"However, a dismissal is only fair if the employee has been warned that it is against company policy. They shouldn't fire at the first shot," she said.

Another Pokemon Go player, known only as Simon, said his enjoyment of the game would be affected if employers started removing PokeStops.

"It is a bit too severe to fire someone just for playing the game. The overall work performance of that person should be considered," he added.