Managing the March Madness: Keeping Your Employees Productive and Office Pools Legal

March 16, 2016

The NCAA Men's Basketball starts tomorrow, and employees across Iowa are hurrying to get their brackets filled out for tournament pools. Employers should expect extra madness this year with all three Iowa universities participating in the tournament. However, there are steps employers can take to keep employees productive during the tournament and ensure that any official (or unofficial) office pool is legal.

Legality of Office Pools
If you have a tournament pool going on at your workplace, you’re not alone. One consulting firm estimates that 58.3 million people are expected to participate in an office pool this year. Office pools are legal in Iowa but only if they are conducted within the following parameters:

  • All participants must have a bona fide social relationship. In other words, participants must know each other socially prior to coming together to participate in a sports betting pool.
  • No participant may win or lose more than a total of $200 in one or more games at any time during any period of 24 consecutive hours. Iowa’s law was amended last year to increase the amount that can be won or lost from $50 to $200. However, sports betting pools must still be low stakes. If the pool gets too big (more than $200), consider awarding a winner every 24 hours or divide participants into several different pools.
  • All participants in the gambling activity must be individuals, and no participant may act as an agent for another person. Participants may only submit brackets and entry fees for themselves. If you allow non-employees (with a bona fide social relationship to your employees) to participate in the office pool, they must fill out and submit their own brackets.
  • The game must be conducted in a fair and honest manner. The rules for tournament pools are usually straightforward, but make sure everyone understands them up front.
  • No person can receive or have a right to receive, directly or indirectly, any profit from the sports pool, except the amount a person can win as a participant. No using your office pool as a fundraiser or allowing the organizer to keep a cut of the action!
  • No office pools are permitted at schools, school sites, or places with liquor licenses. If your company is licensed to sell or serve alcohol, there are different rules that apply to any social gambling on your premises, including that you are not permitted to use tournament brackets to engage in social gambling. No type of social gambling is permitted at any school or school site.

Employees do not need to be 21 to participate in a tournament pool. Persons of any age may participate. If you host an office pool, make sure the opportunity to participate is afforded to all employees on an equal basis to avoid any claims of discrimination or unfair treatment.

Maintaining Productivity
Many employers think it difficult, if not impossible, to prevent a dip in productivity during the tournament regardless of whether your workplace sanctions an office pool. Employees often spend working time checking scores, chatting with other employees about the tournament, and even streaming games on their work computers. Some employees may even skip work altogether to watch the games.

If your business already has a policy regarding personal use of company equipment, either limiting personal use of company equipment to certain times or prohibiting personal use of computers, you can put that policy to use to manage productivity during March Madness.


Since many employees may be able to stream games, check scores, or chat with coworkers on their personal devices, you may also need to make use of any policy your company may have limiting the use of personal devices at work. Remind employees of your policies and make sure your managers and supervisors are following the policy.


Employees are more likely to follow the policy if it is enforced consistently and fairly. Even if you don't have a formal policy in place, you can require employees to limit their “tourney time” to breaks and non-working hours. March Madness-related performance or behavior issues should be promptly addressed and documented in the same manner as any other performance or behavior issue.

Don't forget that March Madness can also be an opportunity to build office morale. Having an “official” office pool, a designated place for watching the tournament, or a casual day where employees can wear clothes to support their team, can increase camaraderie among your employees. These activities may also let you better control the time employees spend on the tournament by designating appropriate times and places for discussing and watching the tournament.