As I’ve written about before, Connecticut has basically turned a blind eye towards office pools — particularly when the organizer doesn’t take a cut of the prize money.
But what should companies do?
Well, lawyers like to come up with a laundry list of reasons that there exists some risk with allowing office pools or March Madness at your company. For example, as one lawyer put it, employees who feel excluded “could” file discrimination claims.
But experience has not shown that those risks are something out of the ordinary. A quick search for discrimination cases where office pools are used as evidence of discrimination turns up, well, nothing of substance. Yes, there was one case where a supervisor refused to allow an employee to move a television into the warehouse so he could watch March Madness games (you can’t make this up), but the court was rightfully not concerned by that fact.
So, what’s the takeaway for employers? Even with the attorney general’s blessing a few years back, a company should probably not sponsor the pool directly. If a few employees want to organize, so much the better. But if that happens, someone should inform those individuals that any money collected should be distributed and they are not allowed to keep a cut of the money.
And if company resources are being used significantly for such efforts, the employees ought to be counselled to keep work computers out of it.
Of course, the company can always sponsor a contest (different from an office pool in that participants do not need to submit money to play) for employees to get involved with. For example, the company could give away a free vacation day to the winner of the office “pool”. It’s a fun, low-cost way to build morale within a department or office.
Despite the low risk that your office pool is going to lead to trouble, if you have any concerns about this, talk with your local lawyer to get a sense whether what you’re doing is truly kosher. And check out this post which talks about some of the approaches companies take on this too.
Does your office sponsor a pool? Do you think the legal risks are overblown or underrated?