Sunday, March 15, 2015

March Madness Doesn't Have to Drive Your Workplace Crazy



March Madness is upon us yet again, and employers should be taking steps to avoid becoming a casualty of all the hoopla. 

Sure, reports say that about 50 million Americans took part in March Madness office pools last year, and companies lost over $1 billion due to unproductive work time during just the first week of last year’s NCAA tournament, but is that enough to get employers’ attention?  And what about the possibility of criminal prosecution?

In reality, the likelihood of being prosecuted for participating in an office betting pool is pretty slim.  Employers face higher risk than their employees, however.  Remember, office pools are illegal virtually everywhere in the United States, and there are at least a few reports each year of authorities shutting down and, in some extreme cases, criminally charging those who organized and ran the pools.  No employer wants to be THAT business.  It's easy to laugh at the thought of "my company's little office pool" being illegal, until someone gets into hot water over it.

It’s unlikely that office pools will suddenly just go away, however, so what can employers do to minimize the risk to their workplaces?  Following a few simple guidelines will go a long way: 
  • Have employees fill out paper brackets, rather than using the employer’s computer system.  And don’t allow the paper brackets be printed on the organization’s copiers. 
  • If some employees complain about the sports betting because of their religious beliefs or some other ground, don’t ignore them.  Hear them out and, when necessary, take appropriate action.  Even being around gambling can violate certain religious tenets, and employees with sincerely held beliefs neither want nor deserve to be pressured by those who are caught up in the lunacy that March Madness can bring.  Telling them to essentially ignore it for a few weeks is not a good response.  It can leave them feeling marginalized and might even drive them to report the pool to law enforcement.
  • Supervisors and managers should avoid participating in any office pools.  If they want to be in a pool, they should find one somewhere other than in their own workplace.
  • Management should keep an eye on employee attendance and productivity during March Madness.  Any problems in that regard should be addressed immediately through the normal channels.  (Setting up a TV in a non-work area for employees to watch during breaks and other non-working time could be a good employee relations tool, however.)
  • It should go without saying, but allowing employees to consume alcoholic beverages on-site as part of the March Madness festivities is almost certainly a terrible idea. 
  • The organization should not post or otherwise publicize results, standings, or other information about the status of the pool, and it should not let anyone use its bulletin boards or other common areas to do so. 
  • Because problem gambling often rises to the surface during the NCAA tournament, employers should use March Madness as another opportunity to let employees know about assistance that is available to help deal with compulsive behavior. 
  • Employees should be discouraged from using the organization’s e-mail system to discuss results or other things associated with the pool. 
  • Again, the employer should avoid even the appearance that it is “running” a pool.  That means that no supervisor or manager should hold the pool’s funds, disburse the funds, or resolve any questions about the pool.  Several kinds of unexpected liability can come into play when an organization is charged with managing a gambling entity.
Good luck with those brackets!

[Ed. Note:  A huge "thank you" goes out to the team at JD Supra (www.jdsupra.com) for recovering this post, which was deleted by an as-yet-unknown hacker/jerk just hours after it was originally posted.]

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