The number of Americans playing in fantasy football leagues has grown exponentially of late, transforming what was once a pastime of a devoted few into a national sensation. Over 25 million Americans now belong to at least one fantasy football league and fantasy sports represent a multibillion dollar industry.
Surveys suggest that many of those fantasy football participants access their league at the workplace, on equipment provided by employers, and compete against colleagues for a share of the winnings.
Most employers are cognizant of the importance of maintaining up-to-date computer use policies, social media protocols and other important workplace regulations, yet they inexplicably miss regulating participation in fantasy sports.
Make no mistake, however: fantasy sports has real world implications on the workplace. Therefore, clear rules should be documented and circulated at all businesses.
Fantasy football is not just a weekend activity. According to one estimate, fantasy players spend an average of four hours a week researching teams, reading injury reports and reviewing player statistics in order to perfect their fantasy rosters.
Given the desire of participants to check updates and make trades, and the proliferation of online platforms for gaming, it should come as no surprise that a good portion of this time is spent in the workplace. Although it is difficult to quantify, various studies show estimates that the time employees spend on fantasy football costs employers anywhere from $430 million to $1.1 billion each week of the NFL regular season.
By one estimate, fantasy sports ranks with online shopping as the largest waste of productivity in the workplace.
On the other hand, many employers view fantasy leagues as a benefit to workplace morale, and consider the potential for improvement in workplace relationships as justification for the time and resources spent on the game. In the long run, fantasy sports could lead to improvements in employee productivity and retention.
Like most workplace conduct, an employer is entitled, and should be expected, to provide a set of regulations governing access to and use of fantasy sports websites when “on the clock” or on employer-provided equipment.
Development and use of an employee handbook on this and all subjects involving the workplace provides the employee with clear expectations of the dos and don’ts. Likewise, clear rules place an employee on notice so there is no doubt of the employer’s definitions of appropriate conduct.