With the seasonal turn from winter to spring comes the annual rite of “March Madness” — the competition for the NCAA annual national basketball championship. School spirit abounds as 68 men’s teams and 64 women’s teams compete. Any event with great public interest can affect the workplace, and this one is no different. 

Organizations should recognize that much of their workforce likely will spend working time checking scores or even watching games during business hours over the three weeks of the tournament. Nevertheless, companies also can turn March Madness into a positive workplace experience. For example, organizations can permit employees to wear team colors to show school spirit, create forums for employees to support their teams, and even consider, to the extent practicable, allowing employees to watch parts of certain games in the workplace. 

However, employers should take steps to ameliorate the risks of some troubling aspects of March Madness workplace activities. For example:

  • Concerns with Gambling and Workplace Solicitation – Except in Nevada, Delaware Oregon and Montana, sports betting is illegal in most states under federal 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. 
  • Concerns with Company IT Systems – Now that streaming services are widely available, almost any employee with Internet access can watch the tournament on a company computer. Employees also could use devices, such as iPads, to access games utilizing company Wi-Fi. To avoid taxing company systems and slowing down service for those accessing systems for work purposes, remind employees of the company’s non-gambling and electronic communications policies and consider designating a “tournament break room” with a television in a conference center or other office area for occasional viewing of games. This may help control the environment, and, more critically, reduce the drain on the company’s IT system. 
  • Not Disturbing Those Working – Explain to employees that even if the company has set up tournament activities, participation is voluntary and no one should be mistreated for just doing their job. This also can ensure those with histories of gambling are not forced into an unwanted environment. Because gambling is illegal in many states, employers should have a procedure that includes a non-retaliation policy for employees making complaints of unlawful behavior.
  • Avoiding Potential Disability Claims – Gambling is not covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, 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.
  • Consider Company Dress Codes – Employers may not want to relax their dress code rules for the tournament, unless they are willing to consider doing so in other situations.