It’s almost unavoidable this time of year: Bracketology and March Madness mania sweep workplaces as coworkers celebrate Cinderellas and boo bracket-busters.


Office pools spring up with wagers over the NCAA basketball tournament, and while they can be great for employee morale, they can also put an expensive damper on productivity.


The Cons:

The bets your workers are making might not be legal.


“Is this legal? On the federal level, probably not; on the state level, it depends on the state,” writes Michael Arnold for Employment Matters. “Participation in a bracket pool may violate at least two federal laws. NCAA bracket pools that are conducted across state lines (i.e. a company pool involving offices from several states) or which are managed online (the vast majority), could violate the Interstate Wire Act of 1961.”


Depending on the state, wagering on sports may also be illegal.


And, the working time lost on basketball is probably costing you money.


“According to an annual survey by Challenger, Gray and Christmas, businesses stand to lose $1.2 billion in productivity due to the NCAA tournament,” writes Lori Kleiman for HR Topics.


The Pros:

Employers can leverage March Madness to help employees feel engaged, Arnold writes.


“Only you can best gauge what will motivate your workforce against how it will affect your bottom line,” he writes. “If you could care less about employee morale or don’t think it’s a factor, then consider blocking access to the streaming site or mobile app, remind employees of your acceptable computer use policy, and threaten disciplinary action as necessary.”


You might consider leveraging the tournament in a way that makes employees enjoy their time at work while it’s happening, Arnold writes. For example, you might encourage them to wear their team’s gear or embrace the fact that they’ll be watching games during the day.


“By tuning break-room television sets to the NCAA tournament and possibly adding pizza or popcorn to the mix, it represents a cheap investment that may boost employee morale,” Arnold writes.


The Bottom Line:

Unless your company is willing to enforce a strict-no gambling policy, it will be difficult to stop your employees from participating. However, that doesn’t mean you have no control, Arnold writes:


“We would recommend setting certain parameters, including:

Requiring employees to complete paper brackets instead of participating online


Prohibiting bracket pools that will result in employees participating in offices located across multiple states


Prohibiting employees from using company e-mail or printers to administer the pool


Limiting the entry fees (i.e. $20 or less)


Ensuring that the collected entry fees are distributed to the winner(s) (or charitable organization) and no portion goes to the house


Threatening discipline if any employee pressures any other employee to participate in a bracket pool”


Consistency is key, writes Allen Smith for the Society of Human Resource Management: “The most important thing for employers to remember during March Madness is that they must enforce their workplace rules and policies in a uniform, consistent and nondiscriminatory manner.”