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March Madness Office Pools: How to Enjoy the Water or Swim at Your Own Risk

Basketball. Brackets. Upsets. The 2015 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament started this week, so you should expect to hear these words around the water cooler for awhile. In fact, if executed properly, companies can use March Madness office pools as a way to connect with employees and increase morale. On the flip side, however, without any controls, these pools can actually create significant employee conflict and expose companies to unnecessary legal risk. As such, in this week’s e-lert, we discuss how to avoid some of the risks and gain some of the rewards of March Madness office pools.

Several problems March Madness office pools can cause include:

  • Union-Free Workplaces at Risk – Pursuant to the National Labor Relations Act, companies must uniformly enforce their non-solicitation policies against each employee and/or employee group. Therefore, if you allow employees to sign up other employees for college basketball brackets, you may also have to let your employees solicit other employees for union representation.
  • Discrimination Claims – Any time money is involved, there is the potential for problems. Maybe an employee feels that they were not invited to participate in the office pool because of their race. Or, maybe a male office pool organizer mistakenly assumes that his female co-workers would not be interested, and, therefore, does not invite them to participate. In general, any environment where employees are being excluded creates the potential for both hurt feelings and allegations of discrimination.
  • Illegal Activity – Gambling is illegal, and no company wants to make news headlines because it condoned (or encouraged) a high stakes, lucrative betting pool.

To enjoy some of the benefits of having an office pool, including a heightened espirt de corps, employers can take steps to protect themselves from these and other similar issues. For example, companies should:

  • Consider the impact of March Madness office pools on their efforts to prevent solicitation and gambling in the workplace
  • Consider prohibiting managers and supervisors from participating in March Madness office pools
  • Limit the use of company resources for such pools (Internet, computers, etc.)
  • Require all March Madness-related activities to take place during non-work time
  • Give all non-managers the opportunity to participate
  • Keep entry fees and payout awards low
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