With the start of the NCAA basketball tournament days away, small business owners will see their staffers doing less work and spending more time chatting about games and the office pool. And slowing the company's Internet connection by streaming games online.

Although the productivity drop may be annoying, trying to crack the whip and prohibit tournament-related activity may cause resentment and hurt morale, says Bert Brannen, an employment law attorney with Fisher & Phillips in Atlanta.

"Nobody wants to work for a killjoy," he says.

Owners should strive for some middle ground. If they're worried about work getting done, they could permit staffers to watch one or two games in the break room, or schedule coffee breaks to give workers a chance to talk about the tournament.

In return for some lost productivity, owners will have happier workers who feel more of a connection with their employers, Brannen says.

But there are some possible legal pitfalls in letting staffers enjoy some goof-off time during the tournament, he says. If the boss lets NCAA fans have some down time, and they're predominantly men, then female staffers can claim the right to spend time on their interests. And if owners reprimand or discipline women staffers for surfing the Internet or chatting on the phone, they risk having the unequal treatment treated as evidence of sexual discrimination in the event of a workplace lawsuit, Brannen says.

Office pools can also raise issues. They do constitute illegal gambling, although with millions of pools being run in workplaces across the country, the chances of having the police show up are quite low. But if pools are condoned, some workers might expect the boss to be lenient about other less acceptable behavior like sexual harassment that can land a company in legal trouble, Brannen says.

--Associated Press