Employers brace for March Madness

published in The Oklahoman | March 15, 2017

Some employers embrace March Madness. Others simply brace for it.

In an article for The Oklahoman, business writer Paula Burkes reported on a recent survey by Office Team, an independent research firm, that indicated 53 percent of workers plan to celebrate March Madness with their colleagues, regardless of whether their employers sponsor or condone such activities. For some workers, celebrating college basketball’s biggest event means tuning in to the games while still on the clock; for others, it means filling out a bracket and participating in an office pool.

McAfee & Taft labor and employment attorney Phil Bruce, who was quoted in the article, said employers should be aware that while office pools are technically illegal in Oklahoma, the odds are low that state and federal laws will be enforced for low-wager pools. The bigger risk, he said, is a loss in productivity, as well as possible future litigation if the employer has an anti-gambling policy in place but does not enforce it for office pools.

According to Bruce, if the employer doesn’t have a policy and is willing to take the legal risk and dip in productivity, then it should make sure all participants in the pool understand the rules and keep the betting to a small amount of money. One alternative, he said, is to turn each bet into a charitable donation where the bracket winner gets to decide where to donate the pool of money by selecting from a preapproved list of charities. Another idea is to not require employees to pay any money to enter and, instead, award the winner with some non-monetary reward, such as a casual Friday.