Yesterday, the 68 teams taking part in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship were announced, and on March 13, 2012, March Madness begins. Employees will have access to scores, streaming audio and streaming video for all 67 games on their work computers, smartphones and tablets. It is estimated that more than 50 million Americans will participate in March Madness pools, with an estimated $2 billion loss in employee productivity.  In addition, 37% of IT professionals report that employees streaming March Madness games slowed down the company network, while 34% report that March Madness activity has essentially shut down their network for a period of time.

 Many employers already have Internet usage policies prohibiting personal Internet usage, and now would be an appropriate time to circulate an email or memo around the office reminding employees of the policy. Employers can certainly block the websites where the games are streamed, or throttle streaming.

 With the explosion of smartphones and tablets, employees also have an alternative way to follow the March Madness games. If an employer already has a policy regarding personal smartphone or tablet usage during work hours, now is an ideal time to remind employees. If no such policy exists, employers can circulate a reminder that excessive smartphone and tablet usage should be avoided, at any time, not just during March Madness.

 Of course, employers can certainly embrace March Madness as a time to boost employee morale and provide an outlet for what employees may already be doing surreptitiously. Employers may want to allow flexible break scheduling for employees to watch the end of important games, which will allow for a balance between productivity and employee morale. Employees who are able to check scores or watch games during breaks are less likely to have a decrease in productivity. In addition, allowing employees to watch games on television in the breakroom will help to relieve the stress on the company network.

 Any employer-condoned basketball pool should not require an entry fee or award a cash prize, nor should it be limited to any particular groups, lest there be any accusations of employer-approved gambling or discrimination. The pool should be open to anyone who wishes to enter, and a gift card to a local establishment is a good prize. Employers may even choose to loosen the dress code, to allow employees to wear team apparel, or at least team colors.

 There is no right or wrong answer with regard to allowing employees to engage in March Madness activities at work or not. Each employer must make its own decision, depending on the number of employees and office culture. However, clear communication with employees is key, and any policy should be administered consistently and uniformly.

This article is authored by attorney Casey L. Sipe and is intended for educational purposes and to give you general information and a general understanding of the law only, not to provide specific legal advice.  Any particular questions should be directed to your legal counsel or, if you do not have one, please feel free to contact us.

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