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Can You Be Fired for Fantasy Football?

It may sound extreme, but you could be fired for playing fantasy football.

That's exactly what happened to four Texas football fans who were employed by Fidelity Investments, according to a story in the Ft. Worth Star Telegram. The company discovered the fantasy leagues after intercepting e-mails and instant messages.

The key here, said John Challenger, chief executive of the employment consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, is that Fidelity has a corporate policy that bans gambling on the job. That makes it easy to dismiss an employee that's caught.

But even if the company doesn't have a policy banning gambling, they might reprimand, suspend, dock or fire you if they feel that your productivity is trashed because you're spending more time managing your team than getting work done, he said.

"This is a time when a lot of companies are fighting for survival and they may be very thinly staffed," he said. In that environment, companies may be more sensitive than normal to employees who are screwing off.

Fantasy football is arguably costly to company productivity, according to Challenger. The Chicago-based consulting firm estimated last year that fantasy leagues costs Corporate America some $10 billion annually.

How'd they come to that conclusion? They checked with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association and found out that about 13.6 million people play fantasy football every year. Then somebody at the Fantasy Sports Association told them that the average player earned between $50,000 and $150,000 annually. Figuring that it takes a little over an hour a week to manage a team (since you not only have to pick your players, you need to determine who to play and trade), Challenger figured that the average fantasy player costs his company about $45 a week in lost productivity.

That said, Challenger (who doesn't play fantasy football) thinks that companies gain more from the camaraderie that's fostered by fantasy leagues than they spend on lost productivity at the job. He thinks that companies would be smart to allow a certain amount of messing off at work because it makes people a little less resentful of all the times that they have to check their email, blackberry or answer work-related calls at home.

"There is no strict boundary between work and personal life anymore," Challenger said. "Those two parts of our life are intertwined during the day and throughout the week. So it's not surprising if you spend some work hours doing personal business, whether that's playing fantasy football or shopping for holiday gifts online."

Even though Challenger describes Fidelity's action as an apparent "capital punishment for a misdemeanor crime," he warns that employees should be careful about calling attention to their personal productivity gaps in an environment where there are a lot of people vying for your job.