While my favorite team, the Maryland Terps, are not participating in any post-season tournament action, I’m still a big college basketball fan. Filling out a bracket and participating in an office bracket challenge pool is a tradition at many companies and offices. Even Warren Buffet, President Obama and Florida Governor Rick Scott (trying to appeal to a certain segment of Floridians, he picked the Gators to win) have gotten in on the fun of completing a bracket and sharing their projections. Warren Buffet and Quicken Loans are offering a $1 billion dollar prize for guessing every bracket winner.
March madness, besides being a productivity loss in the work place, can open up the door to other employment law issues.
Most office betting pools and bracket challenge pools are “technically” illegal under Florida law and, often, Federal law. While the local State Attorney is likely not interested in enforcing the statute to clamp down on March madness, employers should be conscience that illegal betting pools can be utilized by employees as a basis for a Florida Whistle-blower Act claim.
Under Florida law, an employer may not take adverse action against an employee who has objected to or refused to participate in an employer’s violation of any federal, state or local law, rule or regulation. See Fla. Stat. § 448.102. While it seems ridiculous for March madness to serve the basis for a whistle-blower claim, a company sanctioned betting pool or a supervisor encouraging his or her subordinates to participate in a bracket contest is an easy way for a disgruntled employee to claim they objected to an illegal activity (unless no money is exchanged). Employers need to be especially careful of these types of betting pools if they are occurring in temporal proximity to an employee being terminated, counseled, evaluated or during a time that a company is undergoing a reorganization or reduction in force.
Dori K. Stibolt is a senior associate with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP. Dori defends and counsels management in labor and employment litigation matters pertaining to wage and overtime claims, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, leave/restraint, and whistle-blower claims. You can contact Dori at 561-804-4417 or firstname.lastname@example.org.