Hank Williams, Jr. sang it best…”are you ready for some football?!” With the NFL’s regular season kicking off on September 5th, that can mean only one thing – fantasy football is also back. Fantasy football is the hugely popular sports game in which participants own, manage, coach and compete with imaginary football teams that are comprised of real NFL players, with points being based on statistics generated by the actual players during their regular season games. While I personally am not an active participant in fantasy football, it is estimated that some 36.8 million people are. So what does this mean for an employer?  

Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. estimates that fantasy football costs American employers almost $6.5 billion (yes, billion with a ‘b’) in lost productivity. The firm arrived at this number by multiplying the number of employed fantasy football participants, roughly 22.3 million, by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ estimate of average hourly wages, $19.33 an hour, which equals $430.9 million. The firm assumed that each participant spends an hour a week on their league for each of the 15 weeks of the season, which equals a staggering $6.46 billion in lost productivity. A loss in productivity is not the only risk that employers face during fantasy football season, however.

In this day and age, most employers have some form of an “internet usage policy” in their employee handbooks that outlines and defines the purposes for which an employee may use company internet resources. Some employers take the hard line that the internet is to be used for work related purposes only, while other employers take the position that employees are free to use the internet for non-work related purposes during breaks. Regardless of the position your company takes with internet usage matters, it is important to enforce that position consistently – especially if you plan to use a violation of that internet usage policy as grounds for terminating an employee. Before you decide to terminate an employee for violating your internet usage policy by setting his/her fantasy football lineup on the clock, ask yourself a few questions: (i) is this the employee’s first offense?; (ii) are you aware of other employees who are violating this policy and have you disciplined them as well?; (iii) does the “punishment fit the crime”?; and (iv) is this punishment similar to or the same as other punishments for similar offenses? Asking yourself these questions prior to terminating an employee for a fantasy football related offense may help keep the EEOC or a process server from knocking on your door with allegations of workplace discrimination.