Fresh off Olympic fervor, March Madness begins to invade the workplace
- The NCAA Division I college basketball tournament — "March Madness" — returns March 13, and like events before it, employers can expect gambling, lower productivity and distraction among employees, according to employment law firm Ford Harrison.
- Gambling is a regular problem this time of year, and Ford Harrison partner Salvador P. Simao says employers can’t afford to ignore the risks; gambling at work is illegal in some states, and office pools may span across state lines. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) specifically exempts gambling addiction from legal protection, but Simiao notes that compulsive gamblers may have other medical conditions that are protected by the ADA or state law.
- For employers who do permit gambling during March Madness, Simao recommends that they have gambling policies stating: local, state and federal gambling laws; which behaviors are acceptable and which are prohibited; work areas in which gambling is or is not permitted; and that those committing policy violations will be disciplined.
As with the Super Bowl, the Oscars and the Olympic Games, employers don’t want to take away the chance for employees to bond, enjoy each other’s company and just have fun. But these large-scale events do present challenges to HR that can't be dismissed unilaterally.
Arguably the biggest draw of March Madness to non-basketball fans is the bracket challenge that comes with it, so employers can't address the event in-office without tying in workplace gambling policy. Above all else, keep your policies clear, consistent and readily accessible to those with questions. Direct managers should be made aware of all related policies in the lead-up to the event, but HR should still incorporate those protocols in its broader communication outlets.
Similarly, regarding the productivity issue, employees need to be aware of the limits to enjoying the tournament. Can they watch in the office cafeteria, or only on official breaks? Is there a designated area in the workplace where viewing can occur? Luckily, employers have the benefit of their experiences with the Winter Olympics at the ready. March Madness, like all sporting events, can also be incorporated into meetings and team briefings.