March Madness – Productivity Drain or Morale Booster?

As the 2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament enters its second weekend of competition, many employers are asking themselves: What kind of impact does March Madness have on employee productivity? While most employers assume, and many experts agree, that March Madness is a productivity drain, an equal amount of experts say that March Madness can boost employee morale and contribute to productivity.

According to a survey by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, employees spend an average of one to three hours a day watching the basketball tournament during March Madness and checking scores, instead of working. CEO John Challenger estimates the goofing off costs employers $134 million in "lost" work during the first two days of the tournament. “People will be organizing office pools, researching teams and planning viewing parties,” he says. “When the games begin, many companies will probably notice a significant drop in Internet speeds, as employees start streaming games and clogging up the network’s bandwidth.” According to a survey conducted by MSN and Impulse Research, 86% of all American workers will devote at least some time during their working hours to the games, and 16% of workers expect to spend five hours or more following the tournament.

However, while March Madness may waste millions of employee hours (and millions of dollars), another survey conducted by OfficeTeam indicates that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “When enjoyed in moderation, there are potential benefits to March Madness activities at work,” says Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam, a staffing service specializing in the placement of highly skilled administrative professionals. “They can be a morale-booster and bring out team spirit in the office. It provides an opportunity for employees to bond as they talk about scores and root for their favorite schools.”

OfficeTeam asked more than 1,000 managers whether March Madness festivities in the office, such as watching game highlights or engaging in friendly competitions, affect morale and productivity. One in five (20%) felt activities tied to the college basketball playoffs boost employee morale at least somewhat, compared to only 4% of respondents who viewed them negatively. The majority (75%), however, said the Big Dance has no impact — positive or negative — on morale or productivity.

“[These festivities] may actually keep workers on track by providing them with much-needed breaks,” Hosking says. “Most companies realize that employees who participate in March Madness activities will still likely get their assignments completed — they’ll just compensate for time spent on non-work tasks by shifting their hours or staying late.”

He says it’s often smarter for managers to acknowledge the appeal of events like March Madness and provide opportunities for their staff to enjoy the festivities, rather than ignore them. Why? “Employees need a chance to bond with co-workers over shared interests,” he says.

OfficeTeam offered five tips to help companies celebrate March Madness while keeping employees’ heads in the game. Here’s what they suggest:

1. Grant time-outs. Allowing employees to take quick breaks to check scores or chat with coworkers about the tournament can help them recharge. An informal lunch or dinner at a restaurant to watch a big game also can build camaraderie.

2. Foster friendly competition. Let staff wear their favorite teams’ apparel or decorate their workspaces, within reason, to get in the spirit. Consider organizing an office competition where individuals can win bragging rights or small items such as company-awarded gift certificates without the exchange of money.

3. Go over the rules. Clearly communicate policies regarding employee breaks and Internet use so professionals know what’s acceptable when it comes to March Madness and other non-work activities.

4. Take the lead. Set a good example by showing how to participate in tournament festivities without getting sidelined from responsibilities. If you complete assignments before talking hoops, employees will likely follow suit.

5. Evaluate your bench. If team members want to take time off to watch the playoffs, ask them to submit requests as far in advance as possible. This will help you manage workloads and determine if interim assistance is needed to keep projects on track.

Contact: Alex Kipp


Court Issues Ruling in Lawsuit Over LinkedIn Profile

Linda Eagle filed a lawsuit in federal court in Pennsylvania alleging claims under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”) and various state law claims. Eagle v. Morgan, 2013 WL 943350 (E.D. Pa. 2013). The federal court previously dismissed the federal claims under the CFAA but permitted the state law claims to stand. Now, the court has issued a ruling on the state law claims.

Linda Eagle (“Eagle”) was president of Endcomm when it was acquired by another company in 2010. Shortly after, Eagle was terminated. Prior to her termination, Eagle shared her LinkedIn account information with another employee and permitted that employee to access her account and update her profile. The dispute began when that employee changed the password on the LinkedIn account after Eagle’s termination. Eagle’s name and picture were then replaced with the name and picture of her successor. A portion of Eagle’s honors and awards remained on the profile but were now attributed to her successor.

On March 12, the federal court ruled in Eagle’s favor on her claims for unauthorized use of name, invasion of privacy, and misappropriation of publicity. The court determined that Eagle had a privacy interest in her name, picture, resume, and that her name “had the benefit of reputation, prestige, and commercial value within the banking education industry.” The court found significant that someone searching for Eagle on LinkedIn “would be unwittingly directed to a page with information about” her successor.

Eagle’s victory was hollow, however, as the court determined she suffered no economic loss as a result of the misconduct. Accordingly, the court did not award Eagle any damages. Edcomm brought counterclaims against Eagle, one of which alleged that Eagle misappropriated the LinkedIn account as her own when in fact it was Edcomm’s property. The court stated, “Edcomm never had a policy of requiring its employees use LinkedIn, did not dictate the precise contents of an employee’s LinkedIn account, and did not pay for its employees’ LinkedIn accounts.”

The lesson from this case is that employers need social media policies that clearly define who owns company-related accounts and who is permitted access to company-related accounts. Such policies should address these issues for both current and former employees.

Contact: Jon Secrest


Ohio Workers’ Compensation - Dual Recovery Limited to Claims Prior to September 11, 2008

On June 18, 1998, the claimant was an Ohio resident and was employed by Navistar, an Ohio self-insured employer. While at an event held by his employer in New Jersey the claimant was injured. Navistar filed a workers’ compensation claim for the claimant in New Jersey that was allowed in that state. The claimant received a permanent partial award in 2003 and after that time, Navistar paid for medical treatment under this claim.

At the time of this injury, Ohio Revised Code (ORC) 4123.54 permitted injured workers’ to file workers’ compensation claims in more than one state. In 2008, Ohio statutes were changed to prohibit this. ORC 4123.54 and 4123.542 became effective on September 11, 2008 and these new statutes preclude a claimant from filing a claim in Ohio if one has obtained an allowed claim in another state. On March 11, 2009 the claimant filed a claim in Ohio. The Industrial Commission denied this Ohio claim as being barred by the new statutes. The claimant appealed this denial to Common Pleas Court. The claimant argued that the new statutes could not be applied retroactively and that the claimant had the established right to file this claim. Nevertheless, Navistar filed a motion for summary judgment asking that this claim be barred per the new statutes and this motion was granted.

The claimant appealed to the Court of Appeals and in John W Saxton v. Navistar, 2013-Ohio-352, it was decided that the claimant was not barred from filing the new claim under the new statutes. This court relied upon State ex re. Jeffrey v. Indus. Comm., 164 Ohio St 366 to rule “The right of an injured employee to compensation and medical benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act is governed strictly by the provisions of that act and may not be changed by the Industrial Commission or even the General Assembly subsequent to the accrual of the right. The right to payment for medical and hospital expenses is a substantive right, measured by the provisions of the act in force at the time the action accrues, which is the time the injury is received.” As the employer had raised other issues as part of its defense of this claim and the trial court had not ruled on them, this case was remanded back to the trial court to address them. These issues included whether or not this claim was barred by ORC 4123.84 as not being filed within two years of the date of injury in Ohio. So we will have to wait to see how this case is finally decided as it will probably be returning to this Court of Appeals.

Contact: Brian Tarian


U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Releases New Form I-9

On March 8, 2013, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) revealed the newly revised Employment Eligibility Verification form, Form I-9, with a revision date of “(Rev. 03/08/13) N.” The newly revised Form I-9 makes several improvements designed to minimize errors in form completion. The new Form I-9 has added new data fields, including the employee's foreign passport information (if applicable) and telephone and email addresses, it has improved the form's instructions, and revised the layout of the form, which now has two pages.

Employers are required to begin using the new Form I-9 immediately to verify the identity and employment authorization eligibility of new employees. However, because USCIS recognizes that employers may need some time to update their systems, forms and practices, it is providing employers 60 days to make necessary changes. AFTER MAY 7, 2013, ALL PRIOR VERSIONS OF FORM I-9, (Rev. 08/07/09) Y and (Rev. 02/02/09) N, CAN NO LONGER BE USED BY THE PUBLIC. After May 7, 2013, employers who fail to use Form I-9 (Rev. 03/08/13) N may be subject to fines and penalties imposed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Employers do not need to complete the new Form I-9 (Rev. 03/08/13) N for current employees for whom there is already a properly completed Form I-9 on file, unless re-verification applies. Unnecessary verification may violate the anti-discrimination laws enforced by DOJ's Office of Special Counsel for Immigration Related Unfair Employment Practices.

Employers can download the new Form I-9, related instructions, and information at www.uscis.gov/I-9Central, or order forms by calling 1-800-870-3676.



Why Litigation Holds Should Not Be Ignored

A recent decision by U.S. District Judge Geoffrey Frost of Columbus, Ohio, reiterates the importance of companies placing litigation holds upon receiving notice of potential employment actions. In a case filed by the EEOC (Equal Opportunity Employment Commission) against JPMorgan Chase Bank NA in 2009 (case no. 2:09- cv- 00864, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio), the agency requested that the bank produce certain data maintained in electronic records, specifically information regarding skill login records that would have been kept by the bank’s mortgage unit. The records went back to 2007, and Judge Frost found that a litigation hold on those records should have been initiated upon receipt of notices sent by the EEOC in 2008 involving potential hostile work environment claims brought by female employees who were alleging that they were discriminated against when more lucrative calls were steered towards male workers.

In responses to discovery requested by the EEOC in the lawsuit, the bank claimed that routine purging resulted in the 2007 skill login records being destroyed. Judge Frost called the bank’s failure to preserve those records “inexcusable” and in finding that sanctions against the bank were warranted, characterized the bank’s conduct “at least negligence and {reaching} for willful blindness bordering on intentionality.” The court’s decision should be instructive to companies to immediately place litigation holds on any electronic or other records that might be relevant in a subsequent employment case upon notice of potential claims, either by a governmental agency or a current or former employee. Failure to do so could result in sanctions as discussed here.

Contact: Doug Kennedy