Will Your Office Pool Score a Touchdown or Will You Get Called for a Penalty?

football public domainThose office football pool signup sheets that get circulated may be one of the earliest forms of workplace social media. We post our guesses and look at what spaces all of our friends have claimed.

And along with being a way to bring people together in a shared experience, workplace football betting pools have another common trait with modern social media: They can be terrible for office productivity.

Is this even legal?

That’s one of the issues we need to sort out as SuperBowl Sunday looms large on the horizon. Other major issues are the legality of workplace betting and your responsibility when things go wrong – and they can go wrong in a variety of ways.

The legality of informal office pools is murky in most states. In some states they are clearly illegal, including Hawaii, Wisconsin, Florida, and Illinois. In virtually all others, there are strict gambling laws, so it depends how gambling is defined.

In any case, no owner or member of management should become involved in employee pools. That not only puts you at risk for violating your state’s gambling laws, it exposes you to other kinds of problematic employment practices. For example, employees may feel pressure to participate if an authority figure is in charge.

The buck stops here

As the boss there are many other good reasons to discourage or prohibit pools. Perhaps the biggest of these is that any problem will ultimately land on your desk – and the list of potential problems is great. Consider these possible employee complaints:

  • Why does Joe get time away from his station to run around and sign people up for his pool?
  • Ed said he would pay up on Friday, and now he says he still short!
  • I put the money in my locker, but it’s gone now!
  • I got left out of the pool, again!

The variations are almost endless. Whenever there is a fairly substantial sum of money on the table, almost anything (bad) can happen. Further, as I said at the top, productivity usually suffers when there is office betting going on. But it’s undeniable that when everyone is a good sport and no one’s toes gets stepped on, these sport pools can help promote your esprit de corps.

While you need to avoid management involvement with any informal pool, you can organize activities around major sporting events like the SuperBowl that your employees will enjoy. Wearing team colors or having a random drawing can add a little spark to the work day.

Air Brady

If you have the time and space, how about your own “skills” competition? Set up a tire in the parking lot and have a passing accuracy competition. Or for those who don’t have good throwing arms and to honor the New England Patriots this year, pass around a football and have employees guess how much it’s under inflated!

Sorry. I couldn’t help myself.

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