Master the modern method for managing March Madness

October 24th, 2018 by Richard R. Meneghello and Shayna H. Balch at Fisher Phillips

March madness capture leprechauns

This blog was written by Richard R. Meneghello and Shayna H. Balch at Fisher Phillips, which authors several of our resources. You can find the original here and their On the Front Lines Workplace Law Newsletter (which is excellent) here.


If you work for a certain large company, at any of its many operations across the country, you have the opportunity to enter to win $1 million dollars each year for life when you fill out a March Madness bracket. To hit the jackpot, you would need to select every game in the tournament’s first two rounds with perfect accuracy. The odds of winning? About 1 in 1,943,573. But you could still pocket a cool million if you correctly pick all 32 first-round games. Just last year, a factory worker in West Virginia was only one game short of collecting the $1 million “consolation” prize. Don’t feel too sorry for him, though—his employer gave him $100,000 being the closest out of the 96,108 employee brackets entered in the contest.

This company contest started just two years ago, and is scheduled for a third in 2018. t It’s a great example of the new and more realistic approach employers are taking with March Madness in the workplace: rather than trying to beat ‘em, you can decide to join ‘em. But you don’t have to run a national company in order to follow this example and try a new approach at the workplace when it comes the biggest basketball tournament of the year.

Traditional Approach: Brackets As Distracting Scourge

Not long ago, the average employer treated March Madness with a sense of dread. It was viewed as a costly distraction, sapping away productivity and leading to absenteeism and poor work performance. Every year, outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas issues a report describing the near-catastrophic impact the tournament is expected to have on the American economy. In 2017, in fact, their headline blared that March Madness would cost employers more than $2 billion in lost productivity alone. “Everyone panic!” seemed to be subtext.

Beyond lost profits, employers were worried about large amounts of cash floating around the office, causing latent gambling addictions to spring up overnight, and raids by law enforcement officers looking to break up illegal betting rings. To be fair, some of these concerns seemed more rational at the time. After all, before advances in technology, employees would often use actual cash when submitting their paper bracket to the contest coordinator, and then sneak away from the office (or call in “sick”) to watch the games at home or at a local watering hole.

Fast-forward to today; your workers are probably participating in electronic betting pools with friends from across the country, most likely transmitting money via an app like PayPal or Venmo, while making their selections and watching the tournament from the comfort of their computer, tablet, or smartphone. It’s a brand new day, and it calls for a brand new approach.

Modern Approach: Brackets As Inevitable Activity

In the feverish days between Sunday, March 11 (when the tournament teams are announced) and Thursday, March 15 (when the action tips off in earnest), a significant segment of your workforce will be spending time online reading about the teams, texting predictions to their friends, and filling out brackets using their own unique methodology (which could come down to determining whose uniforms look better). And of course, once the tournament is underway, there will be dozens of exciting games crammed into a short period of time, ready to tempt to your workers who want to catch the action and track their brackets. What should you do?

Addressing Productivity

First, while it is necessary to create and enforce workplace policies restricting the kinds of activities your employees can perform on company time, especially if it involves using business computers and company-issued smartphones, you already know that most employees can easily skirt these prohibitions by using personal smartphones and tablets to keep up with March Madness. So don’t focus your attention unnecessarily where it’s not needed.

Instead, you should enforce productivity standards in the days leading up to the tournament and during the games themselves, just like you should be doing every other business day. Many companies recognize that their workers will inevitably spend part of their working day on personal business—whether it’s running errands, shopping online, making phone calls, texting friends, or chatting with each other. Accepting this fact, most companies ultimately care about whether the assigned work is completed to quality standards, and will not seek to micromanage every moment of the day. You should follow this same approach.

What About Hourly Workers?

Of course, certain hourly workers and other employees have a responsibility not to “steal time” from you and will need to continue to work diligently at all times they are on the clock. No matter your situation, make sure to consistently enforce productivity standards and associated policies. Be realistic when addressing these situations, and make sure you don’t single out one worker to come down inordinately hard on when they may not be acting much differently than their coworkers. Inconsistent treatment is the gateway to a discrimination claim.

Company-Organized Pools

Recognizing that some segment of your workforce will seek to have a stake in the outcome of the tournament, you may want to consider following the example described above by organizing an optional workplace pool that requires no entrance fee. You can buy prizes with company funds and hand them out to the winners, turning what could be a problematic event into a morale booster. Trust us, the winners will not be (too) upset that you didn’t offer a million-dollar prize like that national company, and will be quite happy with a gift card to a local business or a restaurant.

Organizing a company pool will also create a positive team bonding experience that should aid in retention and employee satisfaction. A 2017 survey by Randstad U.S. found that 89 percent of workers reported that participation in workplace bracket contests “helped build better team camaraderie.” Other surprising and eye-opening statistics:

  • 84 percent agreed that office pools go a long way to “make their jobs more enjoyable;”
  • 79 percent said that participating in office pools greatly improved their levels of engagement at work;
  • Half of the respondents meet up with coworkers after work to watch a college basketball game in March, leading to closer relationships; and
  • 39 percent became closer with a coworker after participating in an office pool.

 Perhaps the most surprising statistic from the survey: a whopping 73 percent of workers said they “look forward to going to work more” when they participate in office pools. In other words, rather than viewing March Madness as a short-term problem, you can view the next few weeks as an opportunity to strengthen your team.

Are There Any Risks?

All of that being said, you will want to keep an eye on the situation to make sure your workers don’t get carried away by organizing betting pools that involve cash prizes. Several federal laws prohibit wagers on sporting events, and the actions become riskier if your workers place bets across state lines. The odds of federal enforcement action against a low-end office pool is pretty minimal, though, so you should be fine so long as wagers are kept to a reasonable level. Moreover, many state laws permit social gambling on events like March Madness as long as the organizer doesn’t skim money off the top of the pool, participation is limited to people you know, and the dollar amounts remain relatively low.

How else can things go wrong? Large amounts of cash around the workplace can cause problems if not handled correctly, and some of your workers might be “sore losers” who react poorly to losing money to a coworker, especially if they feel they were forced into joining the pool despite a lack of discretionary funds.  

To address this situation, you should develop a policy on gambling in the workplace and enforce it consistently. If you already have one in place, now would be a good time to send a reminder to your employees of the policy’s details. By reinforcing existing rules that are best for your business, you reduce the likelihood of any violations. And of course, if you organize your own voluntary competition and encourage your workers to participate without any monetary investment or risk of losses, you will reduce related problems while building camaraderie.


The next few weeks will be an exciting time once the action starts on the hardwood, and by following a modern approach to March Madness, you might be able to capitalize on the excitement at your workplace. Rather than fighting the inevitable, you should embrace this new era and you’ll come out a winner no matter who cuts down the nets on the court.

For more information, contact the authors at (who will be crossing his fingers and hoping that the Syracuse Orange will actually make the tournament this year) or

HR Webinars
Terminations Got You Down? 5 Tips to Tighten Your Termination Tactics
December 17th, 2018 at 12:00pm CST by Brian T. Benkstein at Fredrikson & Byron

Unconscious bias - whether you realize it or not
December 18th, 2018 at 11:00am CST by Margaret A. Matejkovic, Esq. at Kastner Westman & Wilkins, LLC

HR Articles
SavE tHE offICe hoLidAY PArTy!
MeToo, avoiding women, and the modified Mike Pence Rule
Carnac the Magnificent says – Politicussin
Non-competes for non-skilled – non-productive, non-legal, non-enforceable?
Discrimination CHARGE! – Step 3 Cause or no cause, because you gotta do something
Discrimination CHARGE! – Step 2 Go Kim Possible for the investigation phase
Discrimination CHARGE! – Step 1 Don't panic, ask questions
Depression – what can an employer do?
Employers beware - what you say can and will be used against you
Holiday stew – ingredients for a happy and non-litigious holiday
MO - The weed du jour - marijuana médicale
Biometrics in the workplace - not a measure of bios accumulated by an employee
Thanks-giving isn't just about turkeys - include the good employees too
The best "stay" to help you retain employees
Overtime, daylight savings time and circadian rhythyms
Controlling the political speech of buttons*
Cursing, surfing, weapons, gadgets – illegal, inappropriate or OK?
How to Ghostbuster a new hire or applicant
Election leave – employer's civic duty, migraine, or just wishful thinking (election, leave!)
Costumes, booze and the Great Pumpkin – beware the office Halloween party
Disability – Dr. or employee approved?
401(k) plan + payroll provider = 401k good things
Disability/pregnancy practices – what not to practice
Bad hire! Bad, bad hire!
TN – A drug-free workplace program is good
Open enrollment – personalizing perks pays off
Unpaid intern – depends on who benefits
The #1 office perk is . . . ?
FMLA leave before being eligible for FMLA leave
IL – Required expense reimbursement for your employees, not Bill Self
Help hiring holiday help here
Are the new DOL opinion letters like noses?
Public disclosure of confidential information is easier than you think
Bad mix – accommodation request and firing
If religious accommodation and a flu shot both equal angst, is that the transitive or substitution property?
Workplace shootings – 20 can-dos to prevent them
No call/no show shows. No what about it.
List 10 Up: Top tips for starting a workplace incident interview
Mr. Freeze unveils National Security Freeze tagline: "They can't steal your identity if it's frozen"
If it's called a dress code, can I wear pants?
I've changed my name – to Optimus Prime
TN: Conceal and carry means post to prohibit or permit
I'll take "ADA in 5s?" please Alex
Swearing at work – 7 rules
Is that red light flashing?
Four-legged office mates and the pawternity policies they benefit
Notice: notices and forms for FMLA that were already expired now updated virtually unchanged
Don't feel ripped off when you get ripped off – get even
School-related parental leave does not mean you forge a note from your kid
NY: Draft model sexual harassment policy/training released
Discipline - Demote - Depart or Communicate - Counsel - Channel
ICE audits II – FAQs to make you wiser
Round up stew: sick leave, harassment, non-compete, etc.
Identifying trade secrets does not mean figuring out how to barter better
ICE audits have nothing to do with freezer police
Being at work full time is not an essential function of a job?
List 10 up: Positive employee relations training: reap the benefits of engagement
Employment agreements – what to do before you do
Background checks of the future are continuous
Treating service animal requests (always treat the animal)
Prepare for saying "No" – you need to decide how to refuse service
List 10 up: What's the deal with employee handbook rules?
I cannot tell a lie . . . you're fired for cutting down the cherry tree
Milk Stork delivers for working mom's and their baby
Job tasks and essential functions under the ADA
Who are you? Why are you here? Personality testing?
No, you can't sleep on the job
Technology driving the hiring process
Should you give your employees a little Slack – or do they have enough already?
"We need to talk" isn't any easier to say than to hear
Bet employers must make: call and raise your minimum wage
Zero tolerance for "zero tolerance" policies
Ralph Waldo Emerson as a productivity consultant
Is the employee "disabled" under the ADA?
The six step DOL audit polka
PTO on the house!
New rules for work rules
Dr. Strangelabor or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Millennial
Did Bartleby the scrivener write his own job description?
"Treating" disgruntled or bad behaving employees
Hiring under the age of 18
DO NOT LICK THE BRAIN! and other obvious stuff
Helping your employees save for emergencies
Right to bare arms in the workplace
#MeToo quiz
Under standing desks
How to approach an employee showing signs of cognitive decline
Dress codes should not be encoded
Foul language *
Rorschach, Horshack and Abednego
Don't ask a woman the gender of her child, especially. . .
Guidelines for a valid no-solicitation/no-distribution policy
All aboard the Love Train for long-term onboarding!
Gender and workplace bathrooms
No FMLA for pet's death
Personal hygiene in the workplace
Yes Virginia, there is a St. Patrick's Day in Ireland
Master the modern method for managing March Madness
Drug testing in The Office
Background checks
"Thank you" and "I'm sorry" – meaningful, simple and impactful
Michael Corleone HR tip for the day
S'not flu or it is, doesn't matter
Be prepared for ICE raids
Looking for employees: an untapped source of talent
Calling Dr. Love(less)
Non-exempt employees – what counts as wages?
HR is not a happy accident
Do new hires have to be a culture club fit?
Remote workers and telecommuting
When former employees ask for references
Model written lock out/tag out program
Wrong table cat
They might be giants . . . transforming healthcare?
Conducting internal I-9 audits
The Nebraska Chamber has issued a W-2 challenge to state taxpayers
The impact of super bowl(ing)
12 steps to handling violence in the workplace
Workplace retaliation: don't give in to the Dark Side
Would you really want to work with a bunch of yous?
What is the ADA?
Monty Python should not write your job descriptions
FMLA definitions
Unemployed or wear a bra – are those the only choices?
What "government shutdown" means for employers
An intern by any other name
FMLA - "leave" as in "leave the employee alone"
 “M,” “F,” Or “X”? Nonbinary Gender Designations in the Workplace
Sexual harassment – can't find it – what now?
Probationary periods
Employee contracts
How to treat fringe benefits for employees
Attendance policies
Different repeal
Temporary and leased employees
Birthdays in the workplace
Needy employees
Holiday parties - acknowledge, avoid, assume (nothing)
Dress codes: who, what, wear
Punch clock
Nepotism: favoring relatives and friends in the workplace
Year-end performance reviews
Hiring interviews
The Form I-9 has changed… Again!
Service dogs at work
Bring your own gun
Social media
Year-end or holiday incentives
Arizona sick day policy
Paternity leave
HRsimple spotlight - Fiona Ong
Permissible post-accident drug testing
Paid family leave: a growing trend
Politics in the workplace: how to remain legally compliant during election season
Termination Series: Communicating the reason for discharge
It’s only a matter of overtime
Interview with attorneys at Kastner Westman & Wilkins
Valentine's Day heartaches around the office
Safety and health tips
Wearable technology
Favorite HR sites
Back to school time is here!
Vacation policies and time off
Interview with author J. Hagood Tighe
Non-compete agreements
Workplace romance
Bullying in the workplace
Employment references
Telecommuting or remote (control) workers
Social media and employment
Performance evaluations
Interview with attorneys at Wilson Worley PC
Interview with attorneys at Knudsen Law Firm
Interview with Kathy Speaker MacNett
Firing, a job to do right the first time
Job advertisement do’s and don’ts
Employee handbooks – getting a handle on your policies
Technology in the workplace
Interview questions: do's and don'ts
Employee personnel files