Don’t Get Sued Over March Madness

March Madness is in full swing – and you may have more on the line than a $10 online pool. Companies will lose $134 million in wages during March Madness, thanks to 3 million employees watching basketball while on the job, according to Challenger, Gray and Christmas, Inc.

And lost productivity isn’t the only risk.

Aside from the fact that office gambling is illegal, March Madness also creates opportunities for harassment or discrimination suits, according to Lori Adelson, a labor and employment attorney with the law firm Arnstein & Lehr.

According to Adelson, lunchtime trips to sports bars or after-work events centered on the games can lead to behavior that could result in a harassment suit. And the discomfort that employees might feel about the entry fee for an office bracket could end up costing you a lot of time and money with a discrimination suit.

“Here’s where the problem begins: You have an employee that says, ‘I don’t have $5 to get into the pool,’ and it leads to them feeling discriminated against,” says Adelson. “You cannot encourage pools where money is required without running into a lot of risks.”

When it comes to protecting your business, sometimes the best defense is a good offense. Adelson recommends that employers reaffirm the company’s policies on streaming games or any forms of entertainment while on the job, as well as remind staffers what is and is not considered appropriate behavior at off-site locations.

To keep everyone on task, Adelson advises employers to set up TVs in break-rooms, so people can watch the games without getting distracted from their work. By allowing March Madness to seep into the office in an appropriate way, Adelson says you avoid situations where staffers take off work so they can root on their favorite teams.

“The first thing is that you need to embrace March Madness – it is what it is,” says Adelson. “But because it’s an ongoing yearly event, you can plan for it and turn it into a team-building event that can have a positive impact on the workplace.”