An estimated 56 Million Americans Participate in Tournament-Related Activities while on the Clock


Now that NCAA Basketball Tournament brackets have been filled out, many employees are likely to be more focused on the performance of their teams rather than their own. According to Joseph W. Gagnon, partner in the Houston office of management-side labor and employment law firm Fisher & Phillips, March Madness office pools can be a great team-building exercise that boosts workplace morale; however, management should be aware of a few pitfalls that may arise if left unchecked.


Before March drives employers to Madness, Gagnon recommends they create a game plan taking the following stats and tips into account:


  • Stay in bounds. An estimated 50,000 Americans participate in office pools, wagering about $3 billion, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas and, respectfully. Gambling is always illegal in Texas, though office pools may be lawful under certain circumstances. Though the interpretations of legal experts may vary, according to Gagnon, office pools may operate legally if the following three criteria are met:
  1. Gambling must occur in a private place. Some workplace settings with no public access will qualify, though retail businesses and other workplaces open to the public may not.
  2. No person can receive any economic benefit other than personal winnings. Put another way, all money paid in must be paid out.
  3. Each participant must have equal odds of winning or losing, skill and luck aside.


  • Don’t let penalties hurt your game. Whether filling out brackets, streaming games online, or skipping out of work early to hit the sports bars, an estimated 56 million employees historically have reported spending at least one hour on tournament-related activities during the workday, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas. If this holds true, employers stand to lose at least $1.9 billion in lost wages during the first week March Madness alone. Employers can block some of these activities by creating a defense strategy. They should remind employees of leave policies, including whether advance notice is required for planned leave or a doctor’s note for sick leave; remind employees of computer policies that may relate to streaming video or use of email systems; and reiterate to employees what is expected of them in regards workplace attire and appropriate behavior.


  • Referee foul language on social media. More than 262,000 people follow the official March Madness twitter feed. As sports-related conversations and “trash talking” often go hand-in-hand, employers may need to review who handles their company accounts, as well as if their employee’s personal accounts have company ties. Employers should remind these employees of the importance of discretion. As we’ve seen time-and-time again, it only takes one inappropriate comment on social media to initiate a PR nightmare, which may also have legal implications.


According to Gagnon, March Madness office pools can boost workplace morale and build a stronger, more connected workforce. But, failing to take simple, constructive steps to maintain productivity and comply with state law can leave employers left to mend their wounds on the sidelines. 

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Workplace relationships have become increasingly common and more socially acceptable (who didn’t love Jim and Pam from The Office?). Given the amount of time people spend at work and with their colleagues, it’s natural that personal relationships will develop. In fact, a 2014 survey by revealed that 56 percent of male and female business professionals in the U.S. have been involved in an office romance.  While many employers fear the potential legal repercussions of workplace romances, Alia S. Wynne, a management-side employment attorney in Fisher & Phillips’ Houston office, recommends that a balanced approach with clearly defined policies will help ensure that Cupid’s arrows don’t leave them wounded.


“The most common fear is that workplace romances will lead to harassment lawsuits,” said Wynne.


To reduce exposure to harassment claims, some employees are required to report any romantic relationships with coworkers and sign so-called “love contracts” acknowledging that their relationship is consensual. Others are banned from dating coworkers altogether.


But Wynne warns that these steps might not be as effective as employers hope.  “The value of love contracts is limited because they only establish that the employee freely consented to the relationship at that precise point in time,” said Wynne. “Many harassment complaints stem from relationships that were consensual in the beginning, but then changed.”


And employers may find themselves uncomfortably entangled with employees’ personal lives by trying to enforce dating rules, which employees will likely circumvent by hiding their relationships.  Nevertheless, there are some love matches that should be avoided.


According to Wynne, “Employees in direct reporting roles should not be dating, and extra precautions should be taken when subordinates date supervisors, even when they don’t work together.”


Wynne recommends that the following can help keep employers’ heartache at bay:

  • Provide Rules of Engagement – It may not be necessary for employers to adopt rules specific to workplace dating if they already have policies that address professional conduct, prohibit sexual harassment, and require employees to report sexual harassment. If an employee’s romantic involvement has a negative effect on job performance or the work environment, those issues can typically be addressed within the context of a harassment or conduct policy. But depending on the size and culture of the company, some employers will also want to provide more detailed guidance, particularly if they are concerned that romantic involvements between employees in the same department or in the same reporting hierarchy might affect productivity or morale.  Alternatively, employee dating can be addressed in anti-nepotism or conflict of interest policies. 
  • Have a Heart to Heart – Sometimes when love blooms in the workplace, so do jealousy and resentment. In those cases, employers can help minimize ill will by counseling couples to be sensitive to the feelings of their coworkers. They should be careful to avoid anything that creates the perception of special treatment, and also intimacy (or bickering) that could make others uncomfortable.     
  • Let Love In – Sometimes, coworkers’ chatter regarding a budding romance has a more detrimental effect on the workplace than the relationship itself, and can potentially become harassment. While employees should feel free to bring any concerns of favoritism or inappropriate conduct to the attention of management, they should be advised that mean-spirited gossip or idle speculation is not appropriate in the workplace.