Best Behavior During ‘March Madness' Not Always a Slam Dunk

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By Martin Berman-Gorvine

March 9 — It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of betting on the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament during “March Madness,” but employers need to play by certain rules to make sure all activity is legal and in the spirit of the workplace.

For one thing, managers should resist the temptation to place bets, since that could make their underlings feel obligated to take part in office pools, Philippe Weiss, managing director of Chicago-based law firm Seyfarth Shaw, said in a Feb. 27 press release.

Other tips Weiss and other employment attorneys and consultants offered to keep March Madness fun and harmless at the office are:

• If you're going to have an office pool, “small amounts are safer (although technically still not necessarily legal),” Weiss said. “No-entry-fee pools with a ‘prize' component are the safest way to go.”

• Office computers are needed for business, so if employees are getting too crazy streaming games, a crackdown may be in order. “Disciplining employees in situations like this certainly has some risk, but with the right overall policy in place as a resource and consistent enforcement, businesses can reduce the risk of legal challenges to disciplinary actions against employees arising from March Madness conduct,” Brett Coburn, partner in Alston & Bird’s Labor and Employment Practice, said in a March 4 press release.

• But don't go too far in killing the fun. “Half (50 percent) of senior managers said activities tied to the college basketball playoffs boost employee morale, and more than one-third (36 percent) felt March Madness has a positive impact on worker productivity,” Menlo Park, Calif.-based staffing service firm OfficeTeam said in a separate March 4 press release.


Meanwhile, in what should seem fairly obvious, stealing from the office betting pool is illegal. In one case, Weiss said, it led to a five-year prison term for “a tech company's middle manager.”

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