Opinion

How to Address Workplace Gambling

Opinion

 By Associated Industries of Massachusetts

Late winter and early spring is high workplace gambling season. College basketball’s March Madness playoff brackets mean many workers will be talking about, gambling on, and even watching the games at work. 

What does workplace gambling look like? Betting pools, online betting, cellphone calls, and texting are some of the common methods employees use to gamble during the workday. All this may lead to a significant reduction in job performance by some employees.

On the other hand, many employers regard employee gambling as a harmless distraction that creates a little excitement, a diversion from the humdrum of the long winter and workday routines. Most employees treat it as a lark that, win or lose, will not impact them very much. In most workplaces, the single-pool proceeds are relatively small dollars, ranging anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars to perhaps a few thousand.

That said, workplace gambling is a big deal and likely to get bigger. The American Gaming Assoc. estimates that employees may bet up to $10 billion alone on the college basketball tournament. And, by the way, sports betting remains illegal in Massachusetts. 

If you are concerned about workplace gambling or feel that your current policies are insufficient, here are some questions to consider:

• Does gambling disrupt the workplace? Is the gambling behavior interfering with production? Are arguments between employees over games and gambling taking place? Is bad blood festering over unpaid debts? Is there a spike in wallet or purse thefts among co-workers? 

• Are you seeing betting take up an unreasonable amount of work time? Are workers leaving their work stations throughout the day to discuss gambling? Are they gathering during work time to discuss betting options?

• Are gambling employees asking co-workers or the company for loans on wages or from 401Ks, or are there delays in repaying debts? 

• Are your supervisors running the gambling pool, raising disparate treatment issues across the business?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, you may want to consider establishing a gambling policy.

There are a number of options:

• Adopt a no-gambling policy. Define gambling or the type of behavior that is restricted. Employers are free to establish such a policy. The key factor, as always, will be how consistently will it be enforced by your supervisors.

• Determine what constitutes appropriate disciplinary action against any employee who violates the policy.

• Consider adopting a limited no-gambling policy. One method would be to prohibit gambling above a certain dollar figure or value. Such a policy would recognize that small-stakes gambling such as a few dollars or a lunch is reasonable and will be tolerated even though it remains illegal under state law. The problem — will employees disclose they are doing it? There is also the question of determining what is a reasonable dollar value threshold and how to enforce it.

While it is unlikely any company would face any serious civil or criminal liability for a small-time gambling pool, if its operation makes some employees feel uncomfortable, it may make sense to end the practice as soon as you become aware of it, or before it gets going. Whatever policy you choose to adopt, make sure it is one that is enforceable for your workplace. 

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