Three Pointers on Handling Employees’ March Madness

by Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.
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It’s that time of year. Your office supply room smells of freshly copied pages titled “NCAA Tournament Bracket.” The words “underdog,” “upset,” “first round,” and “buzzer beater” are heard from watercooler conversations. Money is changing hands and minds are elsewhere. What is this madness? Why, it’s March Madness: It’s time for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Men’s Basketball tournament.

The claim that March Madness saps employee productivity has received a lot of attention in recent years. One firm speculates that the tournament costs employers $1.2 billion for each unproductive hour of work during the first week of the tournament alone.

Lately, however, an equal number of reports have touted the tournament’s great effects on employee morale. According to one recent survey of senior managers, 32 percent said activities tied to the basketball postseason boost employee morale and 27 percent said that March Madness had a positive impact on worker productivity.

What’s an employer to do? On one hand, employers can put the full-court press on all game-related activities in the office. On the other, they can embrace the enthusiasm and use the yearly college basketball tournament as a way to build morale. Here are three pointers to think about as your employees fill out those freshly-printed brackets.

  1. Gambling in the workplace. As we noted last year at this time, federal and most state laws prohibit gambling on amateur sports; the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 prohibits gambling on sports in most states; the Interstate Wire Act of 1961 has been interpreted to prohibit online betting; and the NCAA opposes even the “harmless small-dollar bracket office pool.” Nevertheless, it’s expected that millions of workers will participate in an office pool this year. Employers should not be seen as sanctioning these pools, even if it is very unlikely that the authorities will come knocking.
  1. Internet use and misuse. As employees watch games online (or via the NCAA’s new March Madness app) and use the company’s email to communicate about games and office pools, companies might experience significant performance degradation in their computer networks. Employers should take this time to remind employees of Internet use policies and any policy on the appropriate use of company-issued devices such as smartphones and tablets. Whichever course employers take, they should be sure to enforce their technology policies uniformly.
  1. Game breaks. Many companies report increased absenteeism during the tournament. In addition, workers may be planning events around games—with or without alcohol. Employers might be able to cut into these productivity issues and even turn them into morale-building opportunities by taking some proactive steps: (1) devote the break room television to the games; (2) allow employees to wear clothing or pins displaying their favorite team, college, or mascot; (3) organize a dry March Madness party around your local team’s game. These steps still might not prevent employees from missing work, so employers should make sure to enforce the company time-off policies uniformly.

The best tip, though, is to understand the issues that the tournament presents and keep a method to the March madness.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C. | Attorney Advertising

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