By Stacey Hall
The NCAA Men's Basketball tournament started Thursday and employees across Iowa are hurrying to get their brackets filled out for tournament pools. Employers typically have two concerns when it comes to March Madness: (1) keeping employees productive during the tournament; and (2) ensuring that any official (or unofficial) office pool is legal.
Legality of Office Pools
If you have a tournament pool going on at your workplace, you're not alone. One consulting firm estimates that 58.3 million people are expected to participate in an office pool this year. Office pools are legal in Iowa if they are conducted within the following parameters:
All participants must have a bona fide social relationship. In other words, participants must know each other socially prior to coming together to participate in a sports betting pool.
No participant may win or lose more than a total of $50 in one or more games at any time during any period of 24 consecutive hours. Sports betting pools must be low stakes. If the pool gets too big (more than $50), consider awarding a winner every 24 hours or divide participants into several different pools.
All participants in the gambling activity must be individuals, and no participant may act as an agent for another person. Participants may only submit brackets for themselves. If you allow non-employees (with a bona fide social relationship to your employees) to participate in the office pool, they must fill out and submit their own brackets.
The game must be conducted in a fair and honest manner. The rules for tournament pools are usually straightforward, but make sure everyone understands them up front.
No person can receive or have a right to receive, directly or indirectly, any profit from the sports pool, except the amount a person can win as a participant. No using your office pool as a fundraiser or allowing the organizer to keep a cut of the action!
Employees do not need to be 21 to participate in a tournament pool. Persons of any age may participate. If you host an office pool, make sure the opportunity to participate is afforded to all employees on an equal basis to avoid any claims of discrimination or unfair treatment.
Many employers think it difficult, if not impossible, to prevent a dip in productivity during the tournament regardless of whether your workplace sanctions an office pool. Employees often spend working time checking scores, chatting with other employees about the tournament, and even streaming games on their work computers. Some employees may even skip work altogether in order to watch the games.
If your business already has a policy regarding personal use of company equipment, either limiting personal use of company equipment to certain times or prohibiting personal use of computers, you can put that policy to use to manage productivity during March Madness. Remind employees of your policy and make sure your managers and supervisors are following the policy. Employees are more likely to follow the policy if it is enforced consistently and fairly. Even if you don't have a formal policy in place, you can ask employees to limit their "tourney time" to breaks and non-working hours. March Madness-related performance or behavior issues should be promptly addressed and documented in the same manner as any other performance or behavior issue.
Don't forget that March Madness can also be an opportunity to build office morale. Having an "official" office pool, a designated place for watching the tournament, or a casual day where employees can wear clothes to support their team, can increase camaraderie among your employees. These activities may also let you better control the time employees spend on the tournament by designating appropriate times and places for discussing and watching the tournament.