By Christopher Morehead
For the Oregon Beer Growler
November is here, which means two things. First, you’ve probably recently tried a new pumpkin beer. Second, it’s the middle of fantasy football season, and you can bet that employees are spending work time managing their fantasy team.
According to a 2016 study conducted by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, employers across the country suffered an estimated $17 billion in lost wages due to employees working on their fantasy football teams while on the clock. That number is based on an estimated record 57.4 million fantasy football enthusiasts — 38.5 million of whom are employed full-time — taking an hour out of each work week for the course of the 17-week fantasy season. Those numbers have been growing annually across demographics, particularly with the enhancement of smartphone technology. Simply put, employees at all levels are generally spending more work time trying to find that next waiver wire player that will push their team — probably named something corny, like “Belichick Yo Self” — over the top. After all, bragging rights over Bob from receivables is on the line!
Realistically, some employers probably don’t know (or even care) that much about the impact of fantasy football on their employees’ productivity. But if you are legitimately concerned that employees are spending company time deciding whether to sit or bench Marcus Mariota on their fantasy team, there are few options that some employers have used over the years to address the issue.
One option is to ban fantasy football in the workplace altogether. Employers may lawfully demand that employees focus exclusively on their job duties during the workday and discipline those who play fantasy sports while working, provided such actions are done on a consistent basis and in accordance with clear, written company policies.
Of course, you should also understand that employees can just as easily use their iPhones to manage their fantasy teams. Many employers have realized that using this approach doesn’t really get them anywhere, and so it is not usually recommended go this route.
If that level of enforcement sounds too authoritarian and isn’t in line with your company’s culture, perhaps you are willing to accept the reality that many employees will, inevitably, check Facebook, Twitter and Instagram regularly. So if employees tweak their fantasy football lineup just prior to kickoff, you’ll realize that isn’t that much different than popping into a social media site.
Provided that expectations are still being met, why discipline an employee simply because he or she is managing a fantasy team? You might even check your own social media accounts while on the job. A workplace with managers who set the same expectations for themselves as they have of their subordinates is generally appreciated and fosters loyalty.
Some employers even go the extra distance and organize office fantasy leagues. Studies have suggested that short periods of unproductiveness can actually have positive impacts, like increasing morale and long-term productivity. In fact, if you’ve ever participated in an office league or an NCAA basketball tournament pool, you may have already experienced beneficial results. Of course, if you do organize an office league, it’s important to make sure people don’t go overboard with smack talk. A little banter is fine, but you don’t want anyone to turn into a real life Terry Tate, Office Linebacker.
The bottom line is that fantasy football in the workplace does impact overall productivity. Just make sure that when you choose how to address it, everyone is on the same page.
Chris Morehead is an attorney in the Portland office of Ogletree Deakins, a national labor and employment law firm. He focuses on hospitality employers, with an emphasis on the craft beer industry. He can be reached at email@example.com or 503-552-2140.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.