It’s time! By now, everyone has done their mock drafts, tirelessly researched last year’s rankings and put together a thoughtful fantasy football strategy. It’s a lot of work and it requires a considerable amount of time. How this translates into the workplace can be complicated. Play by the rules and it could actually be a benefit. However, if employers are not careful, it could be counterproductive.

According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, about 32 million Americans spend $467 per person or about $15 billion in total playing fantasy football. It’s a time when employees can act like an NFL or college team owner to assemble players and make the “real” games more exciting. It’s fun; it’s challenging – and it has absolutely nothing to do with work. Some benefits managers see it as a distraction, but go along with it as long as it doesn't disrupt productivity. Some research suggests that these kinds of activities can actually help improve productivity.

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As people come out of the dark corners of their office spaces and begin interacting with each other, it creates a happy environment to share creative ideas. And, we all know, happier employees work more productively. Also, when employees feel as if they are included in something, they unknowingly create an equalizer that has the power to transcend title and position. So, everyone feels like they belong and have something fun to look forward to as a group.

However, playing fantasy football in exchange for cash at work can be a serious HR infraction. First of all, it’s arguably illegal gambling. According to recent news in the Miami Herald, rapid industry growth of fantasy sports could draw more attention from authorities in states like Florida where the related laws are generally undefined. A possible solution is to offer a gift card prize as opposed to cash. It’s not perfect, but it’s better.

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Also, employees put a lot of energy into fantasy sports. But the reality is, not everyone participates. And for those who don’t take part in it, a stigma can be created – one that causes dissention and unhealthy cliques in the workplace. Furthermore, it’s a drain on company resources. How many Internet searches, conference calls and even online drafts does it take to get through fantasy football? The answer – many!  And if benefits managers – even those into football – were able to itemize the actual costs relative their employees, they may start making some tackles of their own.

The most important thing to remember is that people will continue to play fantasy football and will do it in the workplace. It is incumbent upon HR to find ways to keep employees engaged and let them have some fun. But it’s also important to develop guidelines. 

Michael Cohen is partner at Duane Morris, an employment law firm in Philadelphia.

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