Legal Q&A Gambling at work

The row in the tabloid newspapers over England striker Wayne Rooney’s alleged 700,000 gambling debt, supposedly run up in just six months, has turned the spotlight on the problem of workers who gamble.

Q How big a problem is internet gambling?
A You may think that gambling is not a problem an employer needs to be worried about, and is just ‘a bit of fun’ and part of everyday culture. However, online gambling is making it easy for employees to get hooked. According to eMarketer (March 2006), global online gambling revenues reached 6.25bn last year, up 28%. In the UK, 53bn was spent last year on all forms of gambling (including the National Lottery), with one million people regularly gambling online.

Q What are the tell-tale signs that an employee is gambling?
A Gambling has been called ‘the hidden addiction’. Unlike drug or alcohol addiction, it may be difficult to detect as there are no obvious physical signs of a compulsive gambler. Like other addicts, however, they will typically deny any problem until they are desperate for help.
It is important, therefore, for managers and occupation health practitioners to look out for tell-tale signs. These might include persistent lateness or absenteeism and excessive use of the telephone or rest rooms.
Among the clearest indications of a serious gambling problem are: borrowing money to bet or pay off debts; any effort to conceal their gambling, as this implies guilt that there is a problem; and the amount of leisure time devoted to gambling.
Before the advent of online gambling, compulsive gamblers might have had poor attendance records, but it may now be necessary to look for subtler signs such as: only having half their mind on their job; appearing withdrawn and less of a team player; secrecy; reduced productivity; irregular time-keeping; or general capability issues.

Q How bad can it get?
A Research shows that by the time most compulsive gamblers seek help, they are hugely in debt and their family life is a shambles. About 80% seriously consider suicide, and up to 20% attempt or succeed in killing themselves.
Three studies of Gamblers Anonymous members and others in treatment found that roughly two-thirds admitted to committing crimes or fraud to finance their gambling. In another study, 47% of the Gamblers Anonymous members surveyed admitted to carrying out some form of insurance fraud, embezzlement or arson.

Q What is the government doing?
A The Gambling Act 2005 comes fully into force in September 2007. Proposed new rules governing the future of gambling in the UK were also published by the Gambling Commission in March. They include:
Operators publishing policies and procedures for promoting ‘socially responsible gambling’
Information and advice for problem gamblers being prominently displayed
Online operators telling customers how much time and money they are spending on their sites.

Q What are the legal implications of gambling in work time?
If an employee is gambling in work time they may be in breach of contract if they are not carrying out their duties and employers should use their disciplinary procedure. If the individual is involved in fraud or theft then it could amount to gross misconduct.
Depending on an employer’s disciplinary procedure, internet gambling at work could be viewed as gross misconduct involving the potential misuse of company property, unauthorised internet use, and the misuse of company time. As individuals get “sucked in deeper” to this problem they run greater risks and may get involved in breaches of confidentiality, workplace espionage, theft and fraud.
Employers should make it clear in their computer and internet policies and disciplinary procedure that gambling at work is unacceptable and will be treated as a disciplinary matter.

Q What can managers do?
If managers suspect an employee is regularly gambling using the internet, they should talk to the employee about any stress they might be experiencing, as people gamble when they can see no way out, and an early intervention could resolve this. If you find an employee has been gambling online during work hours, use an informal warning. If their work appears to be suffering, you could go down the capability route if the problem persists.

Just as with alcohol or drug addiction, the employer should consider offering support to any employee it suspects is involved in regular gambling, such as an employee assistance programme and debt counselling.

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