HR Intel: Embrace March Madness Rather Than Stifling It

Basketball Tournament Bracket TemplateI’m always amused when employment lawyers trip over themselves each year at this time to blog about the risks of gambling and lost productivity with the always-popular NCAA basketball tournament. It’s akin to the famed quote from Casablanca when Captain Renault says in Rick’s Cafe, “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”

With March Madness almost upon us, it’s a near certainty that employees are going to chat about these games and have a friendly office pool to boot. Far from being a detriment, employers should look upon the tournament as a good opportunity to boost morale and employee engagement. Granted, the stakes should remain reasonable—no $100 entry fees—but there are other incentives as well.

For instance, one blogger suggests a company could offer a free vacation day to the winner of the office pool and show that the company gets it. That incentive would certainly boost the engagement of many employees. And the lunch or break time discussions of everyone’s favorite team can do so as well.

Of course, some common sense lines can be drawn. If the guy in the next cubicle is spending two hours streaming the Duke vs. Palooka State game on his laptop, the employer need not look the other way as that’s not exactly a quick check of the scores.

But someone who would do that during the work day is likely a problem outside of March Madness time as well. As an old college instructor of mine once said, “Common sense is the least common of all the senses.”

And Now for Something Completely Different…

My esteemed colleague Michael Jacobson normally authors this blog. But as he is out on parental leave, I’m filling in for this installment. While more forward-thinking companies are offering paid parental leave, it is not required under federal law. And that appears unlikely to change any time soon. The US continues to rank way behind almost all other countries when it comes to parental leave.

However, a few jurisdictions, including California, require certain employers to provide paid parental leave. As a result, employers that are doing business in these areas would do well to have a paid parental leave policy in place. These policies should be gender neutral as well and be applied consistently. That way, employees like Mike can enjoy this well-deserved leave time with their families.

And if your company doesn’t offer paid parental leave or has a program that seems like little more than a “House of Cards,” you could do worse than to get a job with Netflix with its up to 12 months of paid parental leave.

Ohio Guns in Trunks Law

More than 20 states permit employees to store guns in their parked cars while at work, so long as they are locked away and concealed. Ohio will join this growing list on March 23, as it becomes the latest state with a “guns in trunks” law.

The Ohio law—much like others already on the books—makes it illegal for an employer to fire or refuse to hire someone who has a valid permit and keeps a gun within a car locked on the employer’s property. Business groups opposed the law, claiming it will create increased uncertainty for business owners.

Supreme Court Ensures Bathroom Controversy Won’t Go Away

In an otherwise quiet Supreme Court term, the biggest case of note appeared to be one involving the bathroom rights of a transgender student in a Virginia high school. Arguments were scheduled for March 28 in the case of Gavin Grimm, who was born female and wanted to use the boys’ bathrooms at his school.

But this week, the nation’s highest court essentially punted as it sent the dispute back to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals for a closer look at whether the school board’s policy—requiring students to use bathrooms corresponding with their biological sex—is discriminatory and violates civil rights law.

It’s not fully clear whether:

  • The Supreme Court is simply opting to wait until it has a full complement of nine justices to wade into this thorny issue;
  • The delay results from the Trump administration reversing the federal government’s position on transgender rights;
  • The Court legitimately needs more information; or
  • All of the above.

Mayhem at the State Level

Meanwhile, the controversy remains very much ripe at the state level, where the states are all over the map. As of March 1, California employers must identify single-user restrooms as being unisex. The law’s author said, “Restricting access to single-user restrooms by gender defies common sense and disproportionately burdens the LGBT community, women, and parents or caretakers of dependents of the opposite gender.”

Nearly 3,000 miles away, North Carolina is at the other end of the spectrum. Its law, HB2, requires individuals using government-owned multiple occupancy restrooms to use the facility that matches their biological sex. This controversial law led the National Basketball Association to strip Charlotte of this year’s NBA All-Star Game and move the marquee event to New Orleans.

There have been several efforts at repealing the law amidst claims it has cost North Carolina other business, but none have been successful—although other aspects have been amended. It’s worth noting, though, that HB2 did not prevent a private employer from creating its own internal bathroom policy.

Texas may follow North Carolina’s lead as Lone Star state legislators are giving serious consideration to a similar bill. This bill also would overrule local anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in a number of cities, including:

  • Austin;
  • Dallas;
  • Fort Worth; and
  • San Antonio.

Much as is the case in North Carolina, the bill could provoke business losses in Texas should it be signed into law, so stay tuned.

And Finally… “Arch Madness”

No, I don’t mean the underrated and cleverly named Missouri Valley Conference basketball tournament that takes place annually in St. Louis. Instead, this refers to the ongoing battle between Missouri and its second-largest city.

In case you missed it, the Missouri Supreme Court has reinstated a St. Louis ordinance that would raise the minimum wage in the city to $11.00 per hour on January 1, 2018. A lower court had previously struck down the St. Louis ordinance, but this latest ruling gives it new life.

But before St. Louis employers prep for this increase, they should be aware that a new bill to preempt Missouri cities from enacting local minimum wage ordinances is moving rapidly through the state legislature. Thus, it remains to be seen if the Show Me State will show low-wage employees the money.

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