Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Elli Gasper joins NovationHR's team of experts

NovationHR is pleased to announce the addition of Elli Gasper to its team of HR experts.

Elli graduated from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business Graduate in 2010 with a degree in Human Resource Management and Business Management.  During college, she was a member of the IUPUI SHRM and Kelley HR chapters.

Elli enjoys spending free time at her lakehouse in Door County skiing, swimming and biking. She also enjoys other actives such as camping, shopping, running, hiking and spending time with her friends and family.

Elli lives in Woodridge with her 7 month old daughter Connelly, her boyfriend Kevin, and her 5 year old yellow lab, Delilah.

To contact NovationHR, please visit our website

Sunday, March 16, 2014

NCAA Tourney Pools - Morale Builder or Company-Sponsored Criminality?

A practical (not legal) look at March Madness in the office

It’s that time of year again - March Madness.  Employees across the country are preparing bracket sheets, usually on company time and company property using company copiers and e-mail.

But this isn’t the only time of year employees see some “action."

Odds are good that if you have more than a handful of employees, someone is also running a Fantasy Football, Baseball or NASCAR league, a weekly Football pool, a Football King of the Hill league, a Lottery Tickets pool, a Kentucky Derby Pool, and/or a Dead Pool. Let’s talk about the liability you might have, and practical ways to handle it.  A rundown of the most popular forms of workplace gambling is included at the end.

First, a disclaimer: This is not legal advice.  If you want a rock solid legal opinion to hang your hat on, contact an attorney.

What Could Go Wrong?
As stated above, this is not an absolute legal guide written by attorneys.

Federal Law essentially allows the states to decide for themselves the limits on gambling, but in the U.S., we have seven kinds of legal gambling: Bingo, Lottery, Pari-mutuel, Off Track Betting, Poker and Card Clubs, Casino Games, and Sports Book.

What we are mostly talking about would be considered Sports Book gambling where the outcome of a sports event determines the winner of the wager. Is Sports Book gambling legal in the United States? Short answer is “Yes,” but ONLY IN NEVADA and only if you are physically present.
As such, most types of company-related gambling is illegal, no exceptions. That means that participants could technically face at least misdemeanor charges and organizers could potentially face felony charges. Winners could be subject to back taxes, penalties and interest from the IRS if they don’t report winnings as income, and employers could have serious liability on several fronts. What if the gambling crossed state lines using company e-mail? How about if minors were involved?

What else can go wrong? Since the “bookie” that handles the money and administers the system for the numerous types of games is usually at least a Supervisor, if not a Manager, and members of Management almost always participate in the gambling, the implication is that the company at least allows the gambling to happen with full knowledge implicitly guaranteeing the game on some level to employees.

When an employee claims to have been cheated, how can the company not take action? A client of ours had accusations of cheating in the weekly football pool by the Supervisor that ran the game, collected the money, and “graded” the weekly sheets. At that point, the company had to get involved, interview all the key people in an “official” capacity, and ultimately make an announcement to the whole company with the results of the investigation.

What ultimately happened? While no wrongdoing was established, the pool was forever cancelled, almost every employee was disgruntled with either one side or the other, and company resources were tied up for days just to reach a solution that created tremendous disharmony.

Let’s consider that incident from the 30,000 foot level for a moment - company time and resources were spent investigating supposedly inappropriate conduct by a member of management engaged in illegal activity on company property and on company time. Some would (and some employees did!) ask how the situation is any different than a complaint from an employee that the marijuana he bought from his Supervisor had been diluted to unacceptable levels. This is the kind of criticism companies are opening themselves up to by allowing gambling in the workplace.

Why don’t authorities prosecute more often? The common response from law enforcement is that office gambling is essentially considered a “victimless crime” that is less of a priority than other more serious crimes, and that it is so widespread as to be almost impossible to control.

What You Should Do
The “safe harbor strategy” is no gambling on company premises or company time or involving company communications systems, no exceptions. Give a moment's thought to the worst case scenario at your company and how you would justify allowing what is essentially going to be perceived as company-sanctioned gambling to the press, the authorities, or even a customer that particularly disapproves of gambling. Make sure your company policies are updated with regard to gambling and enforce your rules and the related progressive disciple for employees that violate the policy.

What You Should Do (Reality Edition)
You just read the advice that can keep you out of trouble on this issue.

However…assuming you are going to ignore the advice above and allow some versions of company gambling, here are some things to consider from a non-lawyer’s perspective (and one that cannot be legally relied upon):

- Games that pay out 100% of the money bet at least have some chance of getting sympathy from authorities. They still can prosecute for what is completely illegal activity if they want, but at least it’s seen as an “honest” game. If someone is taking a percentage of the action bet, you are running an unlicensed casino, in essence.

- It would seem that having company Supervisors running the game would be a good idea; it’s not. If there is even the allegation of wrongdoing by a participant when a Supervisor or member of Management is running the game the company is firmly on the hook. If members of Management are just players like everyone else, at least you have some level of deniability. Better yet, have your Management Team steer clear of workplace gambling altogether.

- Email essentially lasts forever, either on your company backups (subject to subpoena) or on someone’s personal inbox. Establish and enforce your company e-mail and internet policies on this issue. Also, email allows employees in other states to play thereby bringing the potential for all kinds of additional legal complications if they are using company email. There are several ways for employees to get free email hosting, and most have separate non-company accounts of their own already. There is no excuse for employees using company email for anything but company communication.

 - Have the games kept completely off company property. The websites that are essential to Fantasy Leagues are not company-related and there are others that help players with tracking weekly pools.  If you eliminate the games on company time, you can discretely encourage someone to engineer a replacement game employees can access publicly hosted by someone else on their own time. At that point all you have to do is discourage the money changing hands on your property.
In conclusion, workplace gambling is an issue with significant potential liabilities that is consistently ignored by most companies. When the company is unwilling to take a stand initially or put parameters on the gambling, it quickly becomes an institution accepted by all right up to the point where there’s a problem that can require significant company time and resources to resolve.

Games People Play
Fantasy Leagues
In these leagues, participants “draft” players to be on their teams and earn points for various achievements by their players. Participants typically pay an initial sum at the start of the season, and the proceeds are distributed to the winners along some pre-arranged formula.

Weekly Football Pool
Each week of the NFL regular season, employees pay a nominal fee and pick the winning team, assigning a points value for each game based on how confident they are. The most points each week typically wins some percentage of the weekly fees, with the rest going towards a pot for the season points total winner.

King of the Hill
Participants pay a one-time fee. Each week they select a team to win and cover the points spread. The last person that picks a winning team while all the other players have lost keeps the “pot”.
Super Bowl Squares
In this game, players buy squares on a 10 x 10 grid.  After the entire grid is sold, numbers from 1 to 10 are drawn randomly and assigned to the X and Y axis of the grid, with one team assigned to the X axis and the other to the Y axis. Each quarter pays the person that bought the square at the intersection of the game score some fraction of the fees.

NCAA Brackets
Players pay a one-time fee and fill out a “sheet” selecting the winning teams for each and every game and round. Points are assigned for wins in each round, and the winner and all ties split the “pot”.

Lottery Pool
Employees pool a small amount of money together each week and buy $1 lottery tickets with the idea that they will split any winnings on a basis proportional to each employee’s contribution.
Dead Pool
In this cynical game, employees find ways to bet on which employees will be laid off, terminated or voluntarily quit, and in what order. In several situations I am familiar with, the people have won the pool based on their own terminations.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Company Policy for The Firearm Concealed Carry Act in Illinois

The Firearm Concealed Carry Act that became law in Illinois in late 2013 is a complex issue that will play out in the courts. All we know for certain is that employers can prohibit firearms on their property and vehicles but not in the parking lot.

We acknowledge that the policy below will not stand up in court if the company terminates an employee with a permit that has a gun in their car in the company parking lot.

However, the alternative is to overtly state that they can keep guns in their car, illustrating an avenue to circumvent the policy and bring dangerous weapons to work. We advocate the below verbiage (or some similar format) with the knowledge that you won’t be able to terminate licensed employees that keep guns in their cars in the parking lot.

If you do decide to adopt a policy, you are required to post a sign on building(s) – a copy of the sign can be found here:

Dangerous Weapons Policy
ABC COMPANY prohibits the possession of firearms or any other lethal weapon on Company property, in a vehicle being used on Company business, or at a work-related function. This applies to all employees, visitors and customers on Company property, even those who are licensed to carry weapons.

Some examples of prohibited weapons include:
- Firearms, pistols, revolvers, shotguns, rifles and bb guns)
- Knives (switchblades, gravity knives or any knife with a blade longer than three inches)
- Metal knuckles
- Bows and arrows
- Tasers

We prohibit weapons to ensure the safety and security of all employees and persons visiting the Company. Any employee found in violation of this policy will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including immediate termination. If you have questions or concerns regarding this policy, please contact Human Resources.