Gambling Gambit

Advice on all things HR from Shari Lau, SHRM-SCP, SHRM’s knowledge manager. E-mail your questions to

Shari Lau By Shari Lau March 1, 2016

March 2016 HR Magazine cover 3Solutions.jpg 

Should we allow office pools during March Madness?

It’s March Madness time again, and the annual NCAA men’s college basketball tournament is top of mind for many of your employees. You smile as co-workers exchange high-fives and friendly chatter. Your forehead wrinkles when some knock on your door with complaints. Your frown deepens when a concerned employee demands that you take action to stop the illegal gambling at work.

Is the office pool illegal? Well, yes, in most cases. While law enforcement historically hasn’t taken the time to enforce anti-gambling laws for office pools, it behooves HR to understand the laws and know the risks.

So here’s your crash course: Gambling is prohibited by three federal laws—The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, the Interstate Wire Act of 1961, and the Unlawful Internet Gambling Act of 2006—which outlaw betting on professional or amateur sports (with exceptions for a few states) and using the Internet for interstate wagers and unlawful gambling. Since placing sports wagers is illegal in most states, allowing your employees to engage in online betting, possibly with out-of-state employees, violates these laws.

State laws vary. A few states allow small pools that limit entry fees and forbid the “house” (the employer) from keeping any winnings. But be aware that federal laws still apply.

Your risk tolerance for unlawful activity will guide your decision. However, you also should weigh the inevitable loss of productivity during the tournament against the benefits of increased employee morale and camaraderie.

Since about half the games take place during the day, employees who love March Madness will find a way to watch. They might use their personal devices or company computers, quickly changing the screen when the boss walks by.

While you can block any tournament-related activities during work time, and for some jobs you should, a better bet might be to allow employees to choose how they use their time as long as they get their work done. Some ideas for making it through the madness include the following:

  • Set up a company-sanctioned pool with no entry fees (thus, no gambling). The winner could receive a prize from the employer, such as a gift card, movie tickets or an extra vacation day. Or the employer could donate to a charity of the winner’s choice. Even those not interested in basketball might join in the fun.
  • If you choose to allow an office pool, insist that employees use paper rather than an online system. Don’t allow interstate pools.
  • Designate approved zones for watching the games, perhaps providing a TV. Ensure that employees who aren’t interested in the games have a quiet area to take their breaks.
  • Remind employees of the company’s anti-harassment policy. Some workers may object to gambling for religious reasons, and they should not be pressured to participate.


Do we need a moonlighting policy?

While some employers have specific moonlighting policies, it’s more common these days to allow your conflict-of-interest policy and general performance standards to cover any issues that might develop from an employee working at an outside job.

Still, when employees are falling asleep at work, operating their side businesses on company time or rushing out the door every night, you may be tempted to develop a policy that prohibits—or at least limits—outside work.

A complete ban on outside jobs isn’t generally advised for legal as well as recruiting and retention reasons. Here are some reasons why:

  • It may alienate workers. If they feel that their employer is too controlling, good employees may decide to go elsewhere.
  • It can stress out workers with financial concerns. If workers need the money, denying them the opportunity to use their free time as they wish can increase their stress, which in turn can lower their productivity.
  • State laws generally allow employees to engage in lawful off-duty conduct. Prohibiting outside work might cross the line.

If you decide to restrict moonlighting, here are some tips:

Make your expectations clear. That way, employees won’t feel that they have to hide their second job from you. Trust and respect can be built between the employee and the manager when each understands the other’s needs.

Ask employees to notify you if they have other employment. This will help ensure that there are no conflicts of interest when it comes to the nature of the work and scheduling.

Understand the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) regulations. Employees on FMLA leave are allowed to work for another employer if moonlighting is otherwise allowed. They may have legitimate reasons for taking a side job. Perhaps they can’t do physical labor but can perform office tasks. Maybe they are caring for a sick parent at a distant location but need extra income to stay afloat financially. If FMLA-leave abuse is an issue, a “no-moonlighting” policy may be useful. Employers with established bans can keep those on FMLA leave from taking other jobs—if the ban applies to other employees as well.

Consider that outside employment could provide your employees with new skill sets. You might find that your workers have learned new things that bolster their performance at your organization.


How does daylight saving time affect the workplace?

On the second Sunday in March, U.S. residents set their clocks forward one hour at 2 a.m., and nonmorning people such as myself curse the missed hour of sleep. While the main hazard I present to my co-workers is grumpiness, there are valid safety concerns for those in other occupations.

On the Monday after the time change, workplace injuries increase by 5.7 percent, causing a 68 percent increase in lost workdays, according to a 2009 study using injury data from the U.S. Department of Labor and the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

You may want to schedule particularly hazardous tasks for later that week. Ask managers to be extra vigilant in watching for tired and distracted employees who present safety risks. You also might consider changing work schedules to provide additional rest for those working that morning.

In addition, the time change complicates payroll calculations. To comply with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, employers should pay nonexempt hourly employees on a graveyard shift (11 p.m. to 7 a.m., for example) for only seven hours of work instead of eight that day. Companies aren’t required to make up the difference. If an employer chooses to compensate workers for the extra hour, it doesn’t need to include that hour of pay in calculating the employee’s regular rate of pay for overtime purposes.

Finally, the lost hour could require you to change your workers’ schedules to meet U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) requirements for maximum work hours or rest periods and to change the way you log certain transportation workers’ hours that day.

While there is no official DOT guidance, that day in March will last only 23 hours, which can be noted with a “DST” in the 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. hour slot on the grid. It is important to keep this in mind when calculating required rest periods for covered transportation workers. If they’re scheduled to be off, they will get only 23 hours of rest that day.


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