What does employment law say about March Madness brackets?

For Louisiana sports fans, early spring means March Madness. It is rare that the excitement of college basketball does not spill over into the workplace, where many employees forge social as well as professional connections. Dealing with this can be challenging for employers, though, who pay employees to be productive, not to watch NCAA basketball games. Employment law prohibits gambling in the workplace (which office pools and NCAA brackets are considered in all but a few states) and allows for employers to set ground rules regarding the activity.

Employers face a predicament this time of year, however. Fans can watch every basketball game live, which is easy for those who have smartphones and office computers. This can lead to a loss of productivity and efficiency for even the best of workers. It is estimated that $175 million is spent on employees who focus on basketball instead of work. Even more astonishing, this figure involves just the first two days of the NCAA tournament.

What is an employer to do? It is important for employers to set basic, easy-to-understand guidelines, but also to be somewhat flexible. Interestingly, there are some benefits the NCAA contest can provide to the workplace: increased camaraderie between co-workers, as well as a sense of friendly competition that can be mirrored in work-related challenges. Employers should still communicate expectations clearly and consistently, though. It is important to stress that work still needs to get done, no matter how much fun workers are having on the job.

Many employment litigation issues are governed by state and federal laws. Employers have the right to promote a productive environment and ensure employees follow standard rules of the workplace. Due to this expectation, gambling is rarely, if ever, allowed in most Louisiana workplaces. Employees who refuse to follow these and other rules of their employer may be subject to legal termination, especially in an at-will employment situation. As a result, diehard basketball fans may want to ask themselves: is basketball as important as remaining gainfully employed in an uncertain economy?

Source: TimesDispatch.com "Labor law: march madness," Karen Michael, March 18, 2013

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