Instead of meeting a deadline, you're marking a bracket. Why watch the stock market when you can watch the scores?

Ryan McVay, ThinkStock
Ryan McVay, ThinkStock

Thirty-two college basketball games tip off between Thursday and Friday, and it's expected March Madness will put a big dent in how much time employees actually spend working when at work.

According to a 2017 report from global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, the NCAA tournament could cost U.S. employers as much as $2.1 billion in lost productivity.

The firm estimated 23.7 million workers are filling out brackets (predicting who will win each game through early April) for this year's games.

“Even workers who are not deskbound with internet access in an office are susceptible to this distraction. Hourly workers in the field may be consumed by the tournament on their smartphones and tablets," said CEO John A. Challenger in a news release.

But this isn't necessarily a bad thing. And employers may be wise not to rein in workers' March Madness tendencies.

Phillip Bauknight, an attorney with labor law firm Fisher Phillips in Murray Hill, noted March Madness can have a team-building effect in the office.

"It's a good way for people who may not interact with each other all the time to get to know each other, to talk about topics that they may not normally talk about," he said. "Everybody can be on the same page and be excited about the same thing and have a good time."

There are boundaries, though. It's expected workers wouldn't be glued to the games every second of the workday, Bauknight said. A quick glance at scores every now and then doesn't do much harm.

"If you're the employer who's disciplining every single employee, really drawing a hard line in the sand because of March Madness, it could have a negative effect," he said.

Office pools are technically legal in New Jersey, but the host mustn’t take any money off the top. Bauknight said the entry fee should be reasonable, and participation should be voluntary.

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