Quick Hits

  • The NCAA March Madness men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments can be a distraction for employees that harms overall productivity.
  • The rise of online sports betting has the potential to further increase the distraction of March Madness and raise concerns with gambling regulations and employer policies.

From office pools to streaming games at work, employers are tasked with navigating the legal landscape to ensure compliance and maintain a productive work environment. Here are a few of the major concerns with March Madness that employers may want to consider.

Productivity and Distraction Management

The NCAA men’s and women’s tournaments each feature the sixty-eight best teams, facing off in single elimination events over a three-week period to crown respective champions. In all, the two tournaments feature a combined 134 games for college sports fans and alumni to enjoy. Every game of both tournaments is televised and streaming allows fans to watch on their computers or their phones, even while at their work desks.

With employees engrossed in watching games and filling out tournament brackets, March Madness can have a detrimental effect on overall employee productivity. One study suggests that the loss in productivity will cost employers more than $17 billion, an amount that has been increasing each year. Other studies show that more than a third of employees watch tournament games while at work and a quarter miss work (including taking sick days) to watch March Madness.

Employers may want to consider ways to ensure employees are engaged and avoid distractions while at work during March Madness, including potential flexible work schedules, or designated watch party breaks. Additionally, employers may want to consider communicating expectations to employees regarding productivity during the tournament period.

Office Bracket Pools and Gambling Policies

Office pools are a common tradition during the NCAA tournaments, where employees fill out tournament brackets with their picks to win. Often, the winners of these pools, or the individuals who make the most correct picks, receive a cash prize. Many employees may also look to place wagers on individual games either with each other or using an online sports betting platform or mobile app. The American Gaming Association (AGA) estimates that $2.72 billion will be wagered on the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments through legal sportsbooks and estimates suggest that approximately 40 million to 60 million or more people will fill out tournament brackets.

But while office bracket pools, in particular, can advance friendly competition and foster team spirit, they also raise concerns related to state and federal gambling regulations. Sports betting is legal either online or in-person at casinos in only thirty-eight states and some major states have yet to legalize sports betting—notably California and Texas. Yet, even with legal sports betting more widespread, it remains highly regulated. For instance, some states allow betting on college sports but prohibit wagers on in-state college teams. Further, federal law restricts the placing of bets across state lines.

While the risk that a typical office pool will garner attention from regulators is slim, there may be exceptions depending on the size of the pool or the amount of money being wagered. Employers may want to avoid sanctioning such activity and remind employees of company policies prohibiting gambling on company-owned devices or networks.

Discrimination and Harassment

March Madness can be fun, but it can also bring out heated passions in college sports fans and alumni, which can boil over into the workplace and result in incidents of bullying or harassment. Employers have a general obligation to maintain work environments free from harassment and violence, and this is especially true during tournament time.

Employers may want to take March Madness as an opportunity to remind employees of their anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies and expectations for professional and respectful behavior in the workplace.

Ogletree Deakins will continue to monitor developments and will provide updates on the Sports and Entertainment blog as additional information becomes available.

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Ogletree Deakins lawyers understand the complexities and nuances of sports and entertainment businesses. We regularly provide advice and education to clients on sports and entertainment-related legal topics. We also understand the pace of the industry and the vital importance of keeping our clients on stage or on the field.

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