The focus of nearly every sports fan — whether devoted or casual — and even many people who rarely pay attention to sports will be drawn to the coming men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments. Held over three weeks, more than 130 teams will compete for the national championships in the two tournaments. And every one of these games is televised or streamed on the Internet. Many will take place during working hours.
As with any major event that captivates public attention, businesses must be aware of the potential impact — positive or negative — on the workplace.
First, organizations need to recognize that, in all likelihood, many employees will spend working time checking scores or even watching games. Companies should review with IT personnel their computer networks and determine whether employees who are streaming games through the network will cause system issues. If so, employees need to be advised on system usage restrictions; some sites may even need to be blocked.
Each organization must consider also if it needs to remind employees (gently, if possible) that working time is for work and reiterate any general limitations on non-working activities during working time, consistent with applicable law. Even if the company permits or encourages employees to follow the tournament at work, it should advise employees that any such activity is voluntary. No one should be prevented from doing his or her job or be mistreated for not being interested in the tournaments.
Second, organizations should analyze whether they may build goodwill by celebrating the Madness. Perhaps they can create designated areas in the office or facility for employees to watch the games. Alternatively, companies may encourage employees to wear their college colors and engage in positive team spirit when their team plays. Of course, if temporary dress code modifications are permitted, ensure the rules are clear. Additionally, any cheering in the workplace must be respectful.
Third, employers should consider issues related to gambling and solicitation, as tournament pools can be expected. Except in certain states, such as Nevada, Delaware, Oregon, and Montana, sports betting is generally illegal under state law. Remind employees that company policy prohibits gambling in the workplace and solicitation during working time. Consider sponsoring a company contest, perhaps for a non-monetary prize, to discourage employees from operating their own pools and soliciting each other to join during working time.
Employers who permit or conduct workplace pools or contests, however, need to avoid making employees uncomfortable. This may also help avoid potential claims of disability discrimination. An employee with a gambling addiction may suffer from other disabilities that are covered by federal, state, or local law, including anxiety, depression, or other mental conditions. Employers that allow brackets and office pools need to be sensitive to these issues as well. Procedures for individuals to report unwanted solicitations related to pools should be reinforced.