HR Intel: Sports Edition – March Madness Infects the Workplace

A round up of workplace developments and legal trends to help keep HR ahead of the curve

If you’re in HR, March is probably one of your favorite times of year. There are no messy open enrollment or year-end issues to deal with, there’s a bit of an ebb in legislative volatility and winter is poised to end, meaning transportation and attendance issues are hopefully about to clear up a bit while seasonal affective disorder is on its way out.

Best of all, this natural boost in happiness also happens to coincide with one of the best times of year to be a sports fan. Major League Baseball is in the midst of Spring Training, where even the perennial losers convince themselves they have a shot. The NHL and the NBA are about to enter their annual playoff seasons, so excitement is ramping up. The NFL is waist-deep into its annual free agency period when last season’s disappointments can be forgiven by the acquisition of shiny new players (and rich contracts).

And of course, the annual March Madness NCAA Tournament is under way, fresh off a record-tying number of upsets in the first round. I hate to break it to you, but that probably means your employees are gambling a little bit. They’re also probably having a lot of fun, socializing with each other more than usual, and even creating ad hoc rules and committees or electing “commissioners” to regulate the exchange of money to ensure everything is on the up and up. It doesn’t take an HR genius to understand the benefit of that type of behavior to HR-related goals like better teamwork, efficiency, engagement and satisfaction.

For astute (read: no fun) HR professionals, there’s also the question as to whether this activity is legal (probably not) and the potential consequences if it gets out of hand (fairly severe).

Most modern sports gambling violates the Interstate Wire Act of 1961 because it relies on the Internet to facilitate wagering (the Internet being a form of “wire” communication). “Fantasy” leagues are considered an exception, but only if they are not played for money (sorry, FanDuel and DraftKings). Then there’s also the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act and the Uniform Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, both of which make it clear that sports gambling is illegal unless you’re in Las Vegas, where all bets are off (or on?).

State law doesn’t offer much respite. Some states have exceptions for “social” gambling, but only in a controlled environment where the “house” doesn’t take a piece of the action and wagering is limited to a flat entry fee. But even then, those types of pools probably violate federal law if they use the Internet or depend on the outcome of amateur or professional sports in any way, so we’re back to square one.

When it comes to consequences for gambling-gone-wrong in the workplace, use your imagination as to how bad it can get and then “double down.” Theft, fraud, embezzlement, whistleblower retaliation, lost productivity, compromised IT infrastructure, disability lawsuits, employee gambling problems and prison time would all potentially be in play, among other fantastic prizes.

So what’s an HR professional to do? If you ban the act outright, your employees will probably do it anyway, and they’ll resent you. If you ignore it and pretend it’s not happening, it could get messy. Best bet is to have a gambling policy in place that clearly communicates the organization’s preferences and ideologies as they pertain to gambling in or around the office and with coworkers. From there, you’ll want to keep a close eye on your staff, but without going too far when it comes to enforcement.

It wouldn’t hurt to double-check that a league or pool is in good hands with a trustworthy “commissioner” who is capable of mediating and settling disputes between employees. You’ll also need to have a robust internal communications program in place, preferably open to anonymous feedback. Most importantly, if someone complains about a pool, tournament or even a lottery-ticket-sharing-agreement, response time will be paramount. You must react quickly to address this type of complaint, before it gets beyond the reach of your organization.

Amateur hour

The UC Berkeley assistant men’s basketball coach, Yann Hufnagel, was recently fired due to allegations of sexual harassment. The termination came during a time when the UC system is under increasing scrutiny to fix its handling of harassment claims, particularly after allegations of sexual harassment were made against the Dean of UC Berkeley Law, Sujit Choudhry. Dean Choudhry has since gone on an indefinite leave of absence while he battles allegations that he harassed one of his staffers, then retaliated against her after she complained.

The recently-expelled captain of the Yale men’s basketball team, Jack Montague, plans to sue the university in response to its internal investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct made against him by a current student. After the expulsion, #12 Yale went on to upset #5 Baylor in the NCAA tournament without its captain, before falling to #4 Duke this past Saturday.

Major league mayhem

Former Chicago White Sox player Adam LaRoche has retired and given up his $13 million annual salary, allegedly in response to a new directive from the team regarding his son’s attendance in the clubhouse. This is take-your-kid-to-work-day, but with much bigger stakes! LaRoche’s son Drake apparently accompanied the team on most road trips and spent a substantial amount of time in the clubhouse, prompting a change in policy that may or may not have resulted from player complaints. Perhaps some professional adults felt uncomfortable with the regular presence of a 14 year-old in the locker room? The horror.

We’re getting closer to the NFL Draft in April, so New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has again warned the NFL not to ask players about sexual orientation as part of the draft interview process. AG Schneiderman previously warned the NFL in 2013 due to similar claims. This time, he sent a letter to the NFL’s CHRO, Robert Gulliver, indicating that he was “deeply troubled” that Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple was allegedly asked if he “like[s] men” by the Atlanta Falcons this year. The letter also requested that Gulliver provide a detailed list of steps the NFL has taken to prevent such discrimination, which is illegal under New York law.

Former San Diego Charger and current Baltimore Ravens player Eric Weddle had an interesting experience with free agency in the NFL. After spending nine years with his former team, Weddle became an unrestricted free agent, enabling him to field offers from any team willing to pay for his services. He juggled the impact of losing the relationships he built with his former teammates, uprooting his family and moving thousands of miles away, and whether he would find like-minded individuals with his new team. Ultimately, the thing that convinced him to sign with his current employer – the Ravens – was the team’s decisiveness and its desire to have him. In other words: money.

If only we could all have such a difficult time with unemployment.

Gaming is a sport, too

The annual Game Developers Conference (GDC) just concluded on March 18 and one of the biggest stories out of the conference was Microsoft’s adult-themed Xbox One party, where game developers were greeted by scantily clad women dancing on platforms. This was truly an awful choice, particularly for an industry continuing to battle gender discrimination against women amidst the “Gamer gate” fiasco, so the response – both internal and external to Microsoft – was swift and scathing.

Within days of the event, Xbox chief Phil Spencer stated that the event was “not consistent” with company values, that it was “unequivocally wrong” and that it “will not be tolerated.” The company also circulated an internal email to employees, admonishing those responsible for the party and promising that the company would do better in the future.

How is this song related to HR?

In the previous issue of HR Intel, we asked you how “Patience” by Guns n’ Roses is related to HR. On the surface, Patience is a love song about a man who can’t have his chosen one, but is willing to wait – to be patient – until she comes around. But go a little deeper and Patience for HR professionals could mean exercising restraint when things don’t seem to be working, giving second or third chances to your best people and otherwise creating accommodations for employees in need.

We leave you with sports anthem “We Are the Champions” by Queen.

Tell us how you think this song is related to HR in the comments section below.


Originally posted on the XpertHR blog.




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