Last year, more than 21 million viewers tuned into the NCAA men’s college basketball championship game, and the other March Madness games averaged 10.5 million viewers each. Will you be watching this year’s festivities?
Unfortunately, many games are aired during regular work hours. Rather than adopt a hard-line stance against office pools and live streaming of games on company-owned devices, progressive offices may embrace a reasonable level of March Madness participation as a way to foster teamwork — and provide a much-needed distraction from the winter weather, whether it’s ice and snow storms in the South and East, subzero wind chills in the North and Midwest or ongoing drought in the West.
“Selection Sunday” tips off on Sunday, March 15, and the tournament lasts until the championship game on Monday, April 6. Are you ready to get your game on? Here are some strategies for controlling the madness that accompanies the NCAA tournament.
NCAA Fans Boo 2015 Presidential Budget Proposals
Some colleges and universities give exclusive or priority purchasing privileges for sports ticket sales to people who make charitable contributions — with the priority often dependent on the size of the gift.
In general, the IRS requires donors who receive benefits in exchange for their contribution to reduce the value of their charitable contribution deduction by the fair market value of the benefits they receive. However, the law currently provides that donors to colleges and universities who receive in exchange for their contributions the right to purchase tickets for seating at an athletic event may deduct 80 percent of the contribution — even when the value of the right to purchase tickets far exceeds 20 percent of the contributed amount.
The president’s 2015 budget proposal would deny the deduction for contributions that entitle donors to a right to purchase tickets to sporting events. If it’s approved, the proposal would be effective for charitable contributions made in taxable years beginning after December 31, 2015.
In a separate proposal, the president’s budget plan also would end the use of tax-exempt bonds to build professional sports facilities. If it’s passed, debt to finance stadiums and arenas will be taxable if more than 10 percent of the location is used for private-business purposes.
If You Can’t Beat Them, Join Them
Generally speaking, March Madness is one of the most watched — and gambled on — sporting events, second only to the Super Bowl. However, there’s no real comparison between the two sporting events in terms of workplace disruption. The Super Bowl is a one-day event that takes place on Sunday.
In contrast, March Madness lasts three weeks, and many of the games are broadcast during the workday. That means a lot of employees across the country may spend some work time filling out brackets for office betting pools, checking scores online, watching the games at work or calling in sick so they can watch the games uninterrupted at home on TV.
Roughly 50 million Americans are expected to participate in March Madness office pools this year. And for every unproductive work hour, companies are estimated to lose at least $1.2 billion, according to calculations by global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Productivity issues are especially problematic in the Pacific time zone, where games are broadcast live as early as 9 a.m. and continue throughout the workday.
Workplace attitudes toward March Madness activities have changed drastically over the history of the tournament. A few decades ago, employees wouldn’t dream of asking their bosses to let them watch — or bet on — sporting events at work. Today, many employers tolerate a moderate level of group participation in March Madness as a way to boost morale and foster team-building.
Another reason for accepting March Madness in the workplace is that mobile technology has intertwined personal and professional lives, so fewer people actually work 9-to-5 days. Examples of acceptable activities during work hours might include a nominal office pool, an extended lunchtime or periodic updates from March Madness apps on a smartphone, for example.
More than Just Games
It may seem harmless to let your staff pay attention to the games. But before you give them the green light, consider some of the risks your company faces when the basketball frenzy begins, including:
Lost productivity. Obviously, when employees are watching streaming video of the NCAA tournament games, they’re not getting work done. With growing access to online venues and the popularity of mobile applications to stream video, this year could bring historic dips in productivity levels.
Overloaded computer resources. With the tournament games now broadcast on streaming video, as well as television, employees who access these games during work are gobbling up bandwidth. In many cases, they slow down and can even crash computer networks, making tasks difficult for other employees who aren’t interested in the games. Some streaming video software has a “boss button” that allows viewers to switch off a game to another computer file if a manager walks by.
Gambling law violations. Every state except Nevada has laws that could make some forms of gambling in the workplace illegal. Legal action is rarely, if ever, taken against employees involved in low-stakes gambling and betting pools. However, if the employer is sponsoring the gambling or if the organization or anyone is skimming money from the pool or profiting from the activity, there’s a real risk of violating state gambling laws.
Union agreement violations. What does a little on-the-job gambling have to do with making it easier for union activity in the workplace? The answer lies in the “solicitation rule.” Employers who permit their workforce to solicit bets or participate in gambling polls during work time run the risk of violating this rule. And that opens the door to action by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
The NLRB allows an employer to prohibit solicitation of employees during working time for union support, but only if the employer also strictly prohibits other solicitations of employees during work time. One exception: The NLRB allows very limited charitable fundraising, such as solicitation for the United Way.
Minimize the Risk, Keep the Fun
Here are some defensive plays to consider in your March Madness game plan:
Adopt a no-solicitation, no-distribution rule. If you don’t already have such a rule, now is a good time to start. Be sure your workforce understands that this not only applies to events like March Madness, but is in force all year long. With this rule, your organization prohibits:
- Solicitation for nonwork causes and purposes.
- Distribution of nonwork information and material in the workplace and on the employer’s property, except by employees when they aren’t on work time.
When drafting your policy, consider limiting the number of charities soliciting in the workplace to only one or two a year — otherwise, fundraising could become burdensome and disruptive. Also seek input from your attorney to make sure it does not violate NLRB rules protecting employees’ union organizing rights.
Restrict employee involvement in gambling and betting pools to their own personal time (after work, on breaks and during meal time). Make it clear these activities are only permitted within the local and state laws.
Ban employees from using your organization’s computer equipment or their own personal electronic devices to watch or track sports activities during work time.
Join in the fun — or at least permit the fun in events sponsored by your organization. Allow workers to have flexible lunch and break times. Consider setting up the break room TV for certain games.
Some employers actually encourage the March Madness gaming, arguing that it’s good for developing workplace camaraderie and encouraging interaction among co-workers who may not typically cross paths. They organize March Madness contests by setting up betting pools that don’t cost employees anything to enter, and provide low-cost prizes, such as a $100 gift certificate to a local restaurant or tickets to a sporting event. Some might also permit relaxed dress codes during the tournament, allowing employees to wear sweatshirts and T-shirts in support of their favorite team.
Keep in mind that not all of your employees care about March Madness. If those who don’t care perceive that they are carrying the workload for those who are paying attention to the games, you may end up fostering resentment. Talk to the staff in advance and let them know that everyone who wants to participate is welcome to do so. Otherwise your efforts to accommodate the fun could backfire.
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Brought to you by: McClanathan, Burg & Associates, LLC