A confession first: I’m in a fantasy football league. Actually two of them.  It’s fun and makes weekend football watching a heck of a lot more interesting.

But did you know that fantasy football has led to all sorts of real issues in the workplace?

Well, longtime readers may remember an incident from five years ago when Fidelity Investments fired a number of employees for participating in and running a fantasy football league claiming it was part of a “gambling” operation.

The tips I gave at the time still hold true today:

  • 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.

But I was curious: Has fantasy football been the subject of actual allegations in other employment cases? In other words, is fantasy football something other than a fantasy in the workplace?

A quick Google Scholar search turned up more cases than I would have thought.

  • There was the 2004 New Jersey case where two employees alleged religious harassment.  For example, “One of the ‘Jewish’  comments ascribed to [the alleged harasser] related to the office fantasy football league when [that employee] allegedly said, ‘This is the gentiles against the Jews and the plaque should never hang in anybody’s office that doesn’t celebrate Christmas.'”  Despite this allegation, the court upheld summary judgment in favor of the employer.
  • In a 2013 case, an employee claimed that his termination was racially motivated.  The employer, as part of its defense, pointed to an earlier performance review where the employee’s usage of worktime was criticized. The review indicated that the employee “showed up late for meetings, worked on fantasy football during a “boot camp” training session in August 2004, and failed to contribute in staff meetings.”  The employee’s discriminatino claim was allowed to proceed to trial by the Sixth Circuit after further consideration (and more facts.)
  • Lest you think that fantasy football is merely virtual, there was constructive discharge case filed against a fantasy football statistics company and a claim for unpaid stock worth in the millions of dollars.
  • A more common claim is the type found in some sexual harassment claims — that the employee was ostracized.  In a Minnesota case from a few years ago, a female employee alleged that “she was excluded from Fantasy Football leagues and other social events, like campfires, and her co-workers would talk about these activities around her, even though she wasn’t invited to participate. ” (Campfires? Do companies still do that?) The employer’s motion for summary judgment was denied in this case as well.

So to answer my own question in the title: No, fantasy football is not a critical threat to your business. But sometimes, fantasy football can be used support a claim of harassment or discrimination.

Fantasy football, despite its name, is a real industry and those companies that treat it as mere child’s play, do so at their own risk.