#TipForTuesday – Fantasy Football at the Office

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Fantasy FootballWith the NFL starting in just a few short weeks, our office is buzzing about fantasy football picks and pools, spouting out “Who should be the number-one pick? What is the best round to choose a quarterback?” and other such language.

To someone like me, and a few other of my colleagues at HMA, this could be Greek for all that I can understand of it.  I confess that I am not a huge football fan.

So besides getting your sporting attire ready to wear, have you also set up friendly bets with co-workers at the office?

Did you know that both talk and action of fantasy football and football pools in the office can result in trouble for you and your officemates?

We asked Craig O’Loughlin, a partner at Quarles & Brady, one of our clients, to provide us with some advice on how best to handle this office tradition.

According to Craig, some studies suggest that things like fantasy football actually cost American businesses as much as $600-plus million in lost productivity per NFL week. With 17 weeks of regular season games, that can add up fast.

This number may only rise as Americans access to technology rises.

“Sports have long been disruptors in the workforce, but with the social media, smartphones and game score applications, and the prevalence of email communications, these distractions are even more widespread,” he says. “Twenty years ago, the worst an employer would probably face is water cooler talk about the weekend’s games. Now, an employer has to worry if their employees are using the Internet for managing their fantasy football teams or gambling on games during office hours.  Employers also have to be aware of the possibility that some employees may be excluding non-football fans to the point of discrimination or even bullying.”

Even worse for some employees – fantasy football can actually get you fired.

“Unsanctioned gambling is still illegal, no matter how stacked your fantasy football lineup may be, and playing fantasy football on company time without the employer's permission is theft,” he continued. “Employers have the right to terminate employees for policy violations or violations of job requirements, such as gambling or productivity problems related to fantasy football in the workplace, at any time.”

In addition to the gambling issue, some business executives and owners worry it will cause hostility in the workplace. For example, if one employee gets a leg up on another in the fantasy football league, what was friendly competition could turn into an all-out office war. And, employers also have the right to expect employees to devote 100 percent of their energies to their jobs between stated work hours.

On the flip side, many owners and office managers believe that a friendly fantasy pool is a great way to bond the office.

So, what is a football-fixated employee – or employer – to do?

Craig’s #Tips:

If an employee – ask! Communicate! Ask what the office policies are.

If an employer, share your expectations with your employees:

  • Simply allow fantasy football both in the workplace and as an officially sanctioned office team-building program
  • Take interim measures such as limiting when folks can participate - on breaks, lunch hour, etc...
  • Take a stringent position and absolutely prohibit it - and even block various sports and social websites from office computers to ensure employee compliance. You can also add verbiage to employee handbooks expressly prohibiting it in the workplace
Whitney Liem
Whitney Liem
A former HMA Public Relations employee.

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