Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Give Fidelity a piece of your mind!
I was asked by FOX-4 in Dallas to appear on air tonight for a story about four managers from Fidelity Investments who were fired this week for playing fantasy football at the office. Apparently this was in violation of a company-wide no-tolerance policy on gambling.
You can read the story as first reported in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram here: http://www.star-telegram.com/news/story/1825336.html
As you might imagine, I find this to be a ridiculous and capricious application of an otherwise sensible rule (e.g., no gambling on company time). First, fantasy football is not regarded as gambling by most reasonable people, or by the law. Even the No Fun League, which originally resisted the fantasy wave, has determined that most traditional fantasy leagues are operated for purposes of entertainment rather than as gaming enterprises. There are no betting lines, no bookies, and, in the vast majority of leagues, no high stakes. In the case of the Fidelity league, the guys put up a whopping $20, for crying out loud.
(Just curious...is it OK with Fidelity if their employees play in one of the zillions of free leagues? I assume so. But, for heaven's sake, don't put your lunch money at risk. That's a fireable offense! After all, what would our clients think if we were to gamble with our own money when they expect us to spend our time gambling with theirs?)
Thanks to the good folks at Yahoo! Sports for referencing this legal definition of betting and wagering from Cornell Law School's web site. See http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/uscode31/usc_sec_31_00005362----000-.html and refer to Section (1)(E)(ix), which states that betting and wagering does not include fantasy sports -- at least the way the vast majority of us play them. In addition, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 declared that fantasy sports are not forms of gambling.
Hmm...might Fidelity's action be illegal? Unless their policy specifically prohibits playing fantasy sports, then according to federal law, those guys weren't gambling and therefore did not violate the rules. I'm no lawyer, but I loved Boston Legal. Methinks Alan Shore, or even mad-cow-infested Denny Crane, would rip these guys a new one with a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Second, I could make a very convincing case that fantasy football is a positive addition to the workplace (in all but the most extreme circumstances). It builds camaraderie -- much like a company softball team -- but everyone can play, regardless of physical limitations or disabilities. It builds relationships between co-workers outside the office walls. It fosters a healthy competitive instinct (which some people don't get if they missed out on playing team sports as a kid), that can be translated into company (e.g., team) loyalty. And, by the way, it's fun. Fun = happier employees, right?
Last, if Fidelity is serious about enforcing this policy (and by all accounts, they are), then they'd better not stop the inquisition at these four. Take it all the way to the top, baby. I guaran-dam-tee you that if the CEO isn't a fantasy enthusiast, the CFO or the Chief Information Officer or head of HR is. Let's see their heads roll, too. If there's no tolerance, then there's no tolerance.
I'd love to see what happens when the crusading party-poopers at Fidelity realize that 30% of the men, and 5% of the women, throughout their North American operations are fantasy football players! Go ahead...fire them all!
And don't tell me they aren't playing on company time. EVERYBODY who plays fantasy football does SOMETHING on company time. Even if they manage to keep it off the computer (Fidelity is one of many firms that block access to fantasy sites), they're talking or texting about it on their cell phones or, egads!, trash-talking by the water cooler. Must our personal conversations always revolve around the kids?
The guy at the center of the storm, Cameron Pettigrew (who seems like a nice enough chap from his interview), said he knew of at least 10 fantasy leagues at Fidelity in which "leaders and managers played." Interesting. I'm assuming a "leader" is senior to a "manager," and yet only the managers were fired. What's more, all four of the terminated guys were acting as league commissioners (which, frankly, should be punishment enough). So only the commissioners were gambling because they held the antes? That doesn't make any sense either. In fact, it sounds more like a certain President's tortured definition of "sexual relations."
Though he didn't narc on the guy, Cameron said at least one higher-up who played in his league has not been fired. Methinks that guy (or gal) is shaking in his boots right about now. Or should be...
Could it be that the "leaders" encouraged -- or perhaps pressured??? -- the managers to serve as commissioners to cover their behinds, then turned a blind eye to the rule-breaking? Your Honor, something stinks at Fidelity's Westlake offices, and it ain't just Trent Edwards...
Now I'm wishing I'd pursued that law degree everyone told me I should get, because I'm pretty sure I could make mincemeat out of the over-zealous Fidelity vice cops. Those four boys aren't just going to get their jobs back...they're due for a nice apology and perhaps a little extra cha-ching in their Christmas stocking if they'd be so kind as to drop their inevitable lawsuit.
Fantasy Fools unite! Join me in support of our fantasy brethren, by sending a polite, yet direct, email to Tom Herrick, a GM in Fidelity's Westlake office, at firstname.lastname@example.org (I did a little detective work and found this guy's name and contact info), and let him know that the company's actions are unreasonable, over-reaching and, almost assuredly, inequitably applied. Remind him that an estimated 30 million Americans currently play fantasy football. That's close to 10% of the US population (which seems a bit high, but the 30mm figure is well-documented). Fidelity has roughly 38,000 employees, so a safe bet would be that at least 2,000 or so are fantasy enthusiasts. And only four of those "played" while at work? I don't think so.
Off with all their heads! Including that guy in the corner office who's spending more time than any of his staffers on ESPN.com (or, perhaps, the Fantasy Fools blog!). I know...that used to be me before I started my own company seven years ago!
Let's get these guys their jobs back while making a statement about the positive role fantasy football can play in the office environment.
Come on...you could be next!