Fun at work

first_imgThe NCAA adds another dimension – the first rounds of the tournament include games that are televised during working hours. Trying to stop the chatter and the betting might hurt your relationship with your employees. Letting them have some fun, on the other hand, can foster a better working atmosphere. “Employees are going to continue to take part in these activities notwithstanding what an employer does to stop it,” said Tony Campiti, a partner in the Dallas office of the law firm Thompson & Knight. “Some (owners) do take the position that `I’m going to turn it into a positive situation.”‘ “It brings out good things among the relationships of employees – I think they enjoy a little competition once in a while,” said Tony Christopoulos, owner of Leads360, a Los Angeles-based company that creates systems for real estate brokers to track their leads. The increased use of the Internet can create more problems around such sporting events because some employees may be spending time visiting gambling sites. Software including an Internet browser’s history function allows an employer to keep tabs on what workers are doing. It’s possible to block workers from using specific sites. Make the line clear Campiti noted that a lot of employers don’t want to be heavy-handed with their workers, but he said they also need to let employees know that they can’t abuse the privilege of using the Internet, or taking time to put together an NCAA pool. Workers also need to know the consequences of such abuse. “We typically sit with clients and instill in them that in the (employee) handbook and the operations side of your business, you need to set rules and guidelines as far as your Internet usage,” Wilson said. Allowing betting nonetheless can open a small business owner up to unexpected legal problems, attorneys said. First, even if the laws against office pools are hardly ever enforced, such pools are usually illegal. “Those laws are on the books in almost all states,” Campiti said. Moreover, allowing – in effect, condoning – betting or gambling at work could conflict with a company’s code of ethics. Campiti noted that a company that allows gambling might find it harder to enforce other ethical issues. Opening the door Another issue: Allowing workers to solicit bets from one another means that workers can solicit one another for other activities as well, including union organizing, Campiti said. Once the workplace is opened up, an employer can’t pick and choose what kind of solicitation occurs. Owners and managers should also think twice before running a pool themselves, attorneys say. “If an employee resists and doesn’t want to participate, they might have some sort of claim that the boss is forcing them to do something illegal,” Meneghello said. Other issues include theft: What happens if someone makes off with the pool money? And, Campiti noted, it’s not unheard of that tempers flare, possibly leading to workplace violence. Some companies deal with the legal issues by administering the pools but removing all monetary winnings. Wilson said his company runs no-cost pools, and the winners get nonmonetary prizes. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! “Why not try to maximize the experience and try to capture some of the excitement?” said Rob Wilson, president of Employco, a Chicago-based human resources company. Still, there are issues surrounding March Madness that owners need to be aware of. First, talking about and betting on these events do take employees away from their work. There are also legal pitfalls surrounding those NCAA brackets that people love to buy into or fill out – this is illegal gambling, even if the bets are only $5, and theoretically that could cause problems for a business owner. But labor lawyers say work time lost to sports talk and betting is the biggest issue for most companies. “Lost productivity is the main problem with any sort of gambling situation in the workplace,” said Rich Meneghello, a partner with the labor law firm Fisher & Phillips in Portland, Ore. NEW YORK With the NCAA basketball tournament just around the corner, employees of businesses across the nation are likely to be a little sidetracked, either talking about the games or setting up office pools to bet on who’s going to win. Company owners need to be sure the work gets done, but they might also want to cut their employees a little slack – these sporting events can be a morale booster. Pools can generate excitement last_img