In the News March 11, 2015

Brett Coburn Highlights “March Madness” Employer Risk to SHRM

While many believe March Madness workplace events are a good way to encourage team bonding and boost employee morale, there are legal risks to consider.

“One of the main concerns here is the risk an employer runs when treating March Madness differently from comparable scenarios,” said Brett Coburn, partner in Alston & Bird’s Labor & Employment Group. “For example, if you’ve got a man watching March Madness on his computer and the employer knows about it and doesn’t do anything, but you catch a woman shopping online and you discipline her, you’re walking into a disparate treatment claim.”

Coburn cautioned that employers that monitor employees’ computer use need to consider privacy laws.

“The laws about this vary from state to state, but for the most part, employers have the right to monitor use on a company computer,” he said. “It’s a good practice to communicate with employees so they know you’re doing this, partly so it has the desired preventive effect but also so that if you catch them, there can’t be this argument, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you were monitoring my computer, and that’s an invasion of my privacy.’”

Coburn also addressed the cost of lost productivity.

“There’s a matter of degree involved. Some employers will view the morale issue as a bigger deal than the potential loss of productivity,” he said. “Workers shouldn’t have carte blanche to sit there and watch every game while they should be working, but it may be the company says, ‘You can use a company computer for personal use an hour a day on your own time,’ but also make it clear that it’s an exception to your regular policy and you’re going to apply that exception to everyone in the company.”
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