Business Monday

Fantasy leagues, office pools: legalities employers need to consider

MCT

The popularity of fantasy sports have not only greatly impacted fans’ involvement in their favorite leagues, but can impact their performance in the workplace.

According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, 56.8 million Americans and Canadians participate in fantasy sports, of which 37.5 million are employed full time. Fantasy sports participants typically compete against each other for the league championship by selecting a team of players who earn points based on their real performance.

As a result, employees are often thinking about and analyzing their fantasy team during the work week. With games virtually every day, participants must make sure their roster is set up for success, including monitoring players’ injuries, adding and dropping players each week, and negotiating trades. For companies managing employees this can mean increased distractions in the workplace and a drain on employee productivity.

But there is also a bright side to workplace fantasy football leagues.

Fantasy football activities can lead to increased worker camaraderie, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. This provides employees with an outlet for discussions and interactions about non-work issues. For this reason, some employers may wish to embrace fantasy football leagues in the workplace, provided these leagues comply with company policies and do not constitute illegal gambling, as discussed below.

Internet policies: The presence of fantasy football leagues in the workplace affirms the importance of having enforceable internet policies in the office to ensure that employees are working, not spending their work days checking to see which player to pick up to replace a suspended Tom Brady, for example. Employers should have internet policies in place not just to prevent employees from spending work time on fantasy sports activities, but also to prevent inappropriate online shopping and social media use.

Such policies, which can be listed in the employee handbook, can mandate that internet activity should be solely for work purposes during the work day with the exception of the employee’s lunch hour or break-time. By having such policies in place, making sure the employees are aware of these policies and enforcing these policies, employers can guard against the risks of productivity levels decreasing during the football season.

Monitoring employee internet activity: Employers should consider going one step further by monitoring internet browsing during work hours. This policy should apply consistently across the office so employers do not treat employees differently based upon whether they work full or part time. In addition, employers must be consistent in applying internet policies and disciplinary actions by not singling out fantasy sports activity.

Of course, having internet policies does not mean the office cannot be a happy and healthy work environment.

Office pools and fantasy leagues remain a great way to bring positivity and fun to the workplace. Used properly, fantasy leagues can be a valuable team-building exercise, similar to an office March Madness pool during the NCAA tournament. Employers must be cognizant of issues related to gambling and increased work distractions, however. By creating an office pool or fantasy league, employers must be aware that creating such a pool or league may inadvertently encourage employees to spend part of their work day focused on their fantasy teams rather than work-related activities.

No participation fees and no inappropriate behavior: Employers should not require participation fees for office pools and fantasy sports. While a fantasy league is not itself considered unlawful gambling, a participation fee and a cash prize to the winner are gambling components that may raise legal issues for employers. Thus, it is best to keep the office pool or fantasy league just for enjoyment. Employers should also be careful to ensure that employees in workplace leagues do not engage in inappropriate behavior, language, emails, particularly under the guise of “trash talk.”

Employers must always be mindful of the potential impact on productivity in the workplace and ensure that any office pools or fantasy leagues are not out of bounds of the law. In order to ensure that employers are operating within legal boundaries, they should consult with an employment attorney.

Michael Landen is a partner at the Miami-based law firm Kluger, Kaplan, Silverman, Katzen & Levine, P.L. He specializes in commercial litigation and labor and employment law.

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