Employers, With March Madness, take a 1980s’ approach

by Brian J. Markovitz
March 14th, 2019

There is an early 1980s song, by the band 38 Special, that informs us all to, “Hold on loosely, but don’t let go. If you cling too tightly, you gonna lose control.”

Of course, 38 Special’s intent was to dole out sage-southern-rock-romantic-relationship-advice — all prior to the adoption of the three-point line by the NCAA. Employers, however, should heed 38 Special’s advice when it comes to dealing with a different relationship— that of employer-employee and the annual NCAA March Madness basketball tournament. Employees are going to watch the tournament, check the scores, and yes have brackets. There is no point in fighting it. Doing so just creates bad morale. I suggest for employers who do not understand the passion surrounding the tournament that they review the 1980s’ Kurtis Blow song “Basketball” [later covered by Lil’ Bow Wow], whereby Mr. Blow explains, “They’re playing basketball. We love that basketball.”

As an employer, though, you cannot let the Madness completely breakdown. People get totally out of control about their sports teams, and employers cannot let that happen at work. So, consistent with (1) the wise romantic advice of an old southern-rocker from well before social media dominated the dating scene and (2) a matriculation to Mr. Blow’s school of basketball fanaticism, here are five tips to keep the Madness running smoothly:

  • Keep morale up. Run an employer-sponsored pool through a known website for team building purposes. Let everyone participate, even people who do not follow college basketball at all —also known as your future winners of the tournament pool.
  • Set guidelines for your brackets and watching the tournament that fit your workplace culture and comply with the law. This includes making clear that discriminatory comments and actions are not allowed and individuals who violate these policies will be disciplined.
  • Be the good guy. Allow employees to watch the tournament during lunch and approved breaks in the breakroom and other approved viewing areas. That way you hopefully can stop employees from wasting time sneaking around. Employers will also reduce the drain on web servers by keeping viewing in a central location.
  • For first time offenders who are caught watching the tournament inappropriately, keep the punishment appropriate to the crime. Do not punish employees too severely. That can also create bad morale.
  • And finally, participate in the watching and the tournament pool. It is good for employees to see that the boss is human too. (Bonus tip: If you win the pool, donate the winnings to a pizza party or some other team building exercise for your staff— a double win.)

Follow these tips to have happy, honest employees, like Uncle Jessie and Aunt Beckie from the 1980s’ version of Full House before they became embroiled in a mid-1990’s school admission scandal. In sum, do not be the singer from 38 Special, who lost his early 1980s love. “You see it all around you. Good lovin’ gone bad. And usually it’s too late when you realize what you had.” March Madness is a golden opportunity for team building and workplace camaraderie. Do not let it be a good opportunity “gone bad.”

Brian Markovitz is a principal in the firm’s Labor and Employment and Civil Litigation practice groups who focuses primarily on helping victims who have suffered severe injustice in the workplace. He represents individuals throughout Maryland, the Washington D.C. area and across the country in complex employment litigation and appellate matters involving wrongful termination, retaliation by employers in response to reporting fraud or misconduct and discrimination on the basis of race, gender, age and sexual orientation. 

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