There have been lots of recent stories lately relating to games of chance and various forms of gambling in the workplace. Seven state co-workers in Albany, New York just split $319 million in Mega Millions winnings. And all across America, employees have finished ripping out their hair as an 8 seed and a 3 seed battled for the national college basketball championship.
The Internet and social media make it much, much easier for employees of your company to engage in gambling-related activities. Whether employees are engaging in online poker tournaments during working time or creating and circulating various office pools, or whether company management is advocating certain games of chance at corporate parties and outings, there are potential liability issues that should be considered. Wikipedia defines a “game of chance” as a “game whose outcome is strongly influenced by some randomizing device, and upon which contestants may or may not wager money or anything of monetary value.”
There are three potential pitfalls attendant to these types of activities in the workplace. First, is the effect that gambling (and, worse, one’s gambling addiction) may have on your company from decreased time and productivity to theft and fraud. Second, is the effect that these activities can have on the working (and sometimes personal) relationships between co-workers. One can surely imagine things turning sour in circumstances where one co-worker may feel cheated by another in a game of chance, or may become too indebted to another as a result of frequent betting. Third, certain games of chance and gambling activities may actually be illegal in your company’s jurisdiction, and pose the risk of civil or criminal exposure to company officials and/or the owners of the premises at which the offending activities are being engaged.
Employer Take Away: What should you as an employer take away from this development?
The goal here is, again, not to act as the social media and employment law scrooge, but to try to sensitize you to potential workplace issues that may arise. Particularly when the ever-developing world of social media increases the ease and, perhaps, frequency with which your employees may be able to act in a manner that may not be deemed appropriate.
In this regard, your company might consider including issues like online gambling to any Internet use or social media policies. In addition, you should continue to remain aware of any signs of a problem affecting your workplace and the relationships between and among your employees that may arise from activities such as gambling, just as you would keep eyes and ears open for discrimination and harassment issues that develop from these relationships. Lastly, while it is unlikely that local law enforcement or the IRS will take a strong interest in your next Superbowl or NCAA pool, make sure you consult with the law in your jurisdiction in the event you choose to advocate any gambling-related activities with your employees.