Today is a memorable day. For some, its Rosh Hashanah – the start of the Jewish New Year and one of the holiest days of the year.  It is common to wish everyone a happy and sweet new year.  (If you really want to get into it, get a fresh Connecticut apple and dip it in some honey today too.  My preference is the Macouns or the Honeycrisp ones)

But for many others, today is a big day too. It’s the start of the NFL season. And along with that, the start of many "fantasy football" leagues. 

Fantasy Football, for those unfamiliar with it, is a game in which participants (called "owners") are arranged into a competitive league, earning “fantasy points” by using the statistics of real football players. 

In some cases, the players pool money for a winner, but in many many other cases, it is done for glory and pride.  (Disclosure: I am participating in a no-money league this year.)  Look at any sports website and you’ll see tons of pages devoted to it.

But this is an employment law blog — what does fantasy football have to do with employers? Plenty.

Last year, for example, several employees were fired for running a big fantasy football operation out of the workplace.  In that case, the employer deemed the league to be a form of "gambling" that was prohibited by company rules.  As I said back then, that criticism seemed a bit over-the-top and no more upsetting than the Super Bowl or March Madness Office Pools that dot the landscape.

A better way to regulate such pools may be to say that such activities cannot interfere with work or use company resources.  As a result, employers may want to think about the following guidelines as fantasy football season begins again:

  • Set up clear rules for your employees; if participation in fantasy leagues or office pools is prohibited, say so. And then enforce that rule evenly.
  • If those types of activities aren’t prohibited, make it clear that participation in those activities during work time is not allowed. Restricting off duty conduct is — for the most part — well outside the bounds for an employer to consider.
  • Consider "blessing" such activities in a non-monetary fashion. Some employers have small office gatherings around some sports event to build morale and teamwork.

Again, I’m not advocating turning a blind eye towards employees who are misusing company resources.  This is work, after all. But setting up clear expectations to your employees and enforcing those rules evenly, will ensure that if problems do develop, they’ll be handled in a fair and appropriate manner.