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The Madness of March: Bracketology & the Workplace

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The Madness of March: Bracketology & the Workplace

By The Employer Group, The Employer Group - Mar 20, 2019

Today, much of our attention turns to college basketball and March Madness, which may include brackets and office pools. To anyone excited to participate: think twice. Informal sports betting and gambling—including office March Madness pools—are prohibited in many states.

Prohibiting social gambling, like office pools, does not, however, stop individuals from participating. And your office may not be immune from March Madness. To prevent any issues for the business, you could issue a blanket statement prohibiting all forms of social gambling at work and discipline employees for doing so. Such a statement may put the stop to illegal office gambling, but it could also diminish your office’s culture.

Here are some recommendations for employers who want to minimize their risk without going all the way to issuing a full, blanket statement:

  1. The company is not the house. The business should not be taking a “cut” of any gambling or officially sanctioning any gambling activities. Doing so turns the employer from a passive observer to an active participant in an illegal gambling venture—which could create real problems.
  2. Prohibit gambling onsite. Ensure employees know they are not to trade wagers while at work or on company property. Employees should also refrain from discussing games or their brackets while working—but may be able to do so over lunch or while on break.
  3. Do not discipline an employee who complains about any gambling that may be happening. While there may be little risk for employers turning a blind eye to onsite gambling, the risk changes substantially if that same employer retaliates against (i.e. disciplines or terminates) the one employee who raises concerns of office bets.
  4. Set guidelines about whether employees may watch games at work. And stick to it, enforcing it consistently and fairly. If you’re concerned about employee productivity, the best bet may be to simply prohibit the streaming or watching of games while working—allowing for employees to do so while at lunch or on break.
  5. Think twice if you’ve got an employee with a known gambling addiction. Turning the blind eye may not inherently create liability for the employer, but when it infringes on an employee’s disability, the issue gets stickier. While the ADA doesn’t specifically protect gambling addition as a disability, it does cover anxiety, depression, and related disorders that could be associated with gambling addiction. If you do have an employee with a gambling addiction, turn the blind eye, and fail to accommodate, you could be exacerbating the impairment with illegal office betting.
  6. Prepare for heated office arguments or a falling out. If betting between coworkers is happening, an employee or two could get bent out of shape for losing her hard-earned money to a colleague.

To prevent your company from being swept into the madness, it’s important the company be no more than a passive, third-party observer if social gambling crops up at your organization.

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