Millions of Americans will tune in on February 2nd to the Super Bowl, one of the biggest sporting events of the year. The widespread interest in the football game potentially affects the workplace. 

While office camaraderie and positive working relationships may result from coworkers socializing over the game, employers may suffer lost productivity in the days leading up to and following the event. Employees may spend work time discussing the upcoming game and earlier playoff match-ups, as well as related statistics and player injuries. They may coordinate social events and discuss the game itself at work. Betting on the outcome (such as through workplace pools) also may occur in the office or plant. 

While employers can maximize the game’s positive effects on workplace morale, they should think about the following: 

Is Gambling Permitted at Work; Applicable Limitations?

Before deciding whether to sponsor or permit office pools, employers should examine their state law. Gambling generally is illegal, but some states make an exception for “social gambling.” While the definition of social gambling varies, it usually occurs in a strictly social context, where the persons involved know each other beforehand and no profit is made. (The NFL’s copyright of the Super Bowl game prohibits third parties from charging admission to view the contest.) In most states, betting among friends and colleagues would fall within the social-gambling exception. While office pools may be permitted under these circumstances under some state laws, there may be limits on how much prize money can be awarded. Gift certificates to restaurants and gym memberships may be safer prizes if the employer is condoning the exchange of money in the workplace. Further, if there is a pool in the workplace, employers should ensure everyone understands that participation is completely voluntary, and that no negative action will be taken if an employee chooses not to participate. 

Non-Solicitation and Workplace Chatter

Employers considering allowing a pool should also consider the effect of their non-solicitation policy. It likely prohibits solicitation during the work time of either the soliciting or solicited employee. Solicitations to participate using the company’s computer, e-mail, and other electronic systems may be similarly restricted. Enforcement may be difficult. 

Regardless of whether a pool is permitted, employees will chatter. Employers may need to refocus employees’ attention on work and should assess how they may best convey this. Of course, the management team should set an example — if managers are spending a lot of working time discussing the game, employees will take the cue.

Dress Code

Many companies have dress codes or uniform policies that prescribe certain forms of dress for professional appearance, branding or safety. If employers wish to ensure such rules are not violated, they may remind employees that team jerseys and the like are not permitted. Relaxing or ignoring uniform or dress code rules without clearly communicating a narrow short-term exception may open the door for employees to deviate from them year round. 

News reports recently chronicled a teenager in the state of Washington who reported to work wearing a Denver Broncos jersey. The company had a policy allowing a football jersey to be worn on Sundays during the football season to show team spirit, which the employer evidently expected would show support for the home team, the Seattle Seahawks. The teenager, however, reportedly was told to go home and change, since he was wearing a Broncos jersey and not a Seahawks jersey. He left work, but did not return later that day. He was fired the next day. This story highlights the importance of knowing and communicating the company’s rules even when caught up in being a fan and rooting for your favorite team at work.

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With thought and planning, the Super Bowl may be a way to creatively build morale and camaraderie in the workplace. However, as with any other part of employment relations, employers must keep many considerations in mind.