Employers would be wise to expect a drop in productivity among their workers over the next few weeks, and especially over the next couple of days, as March Madness launches and college basketball tournament games start airing all day and night.

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Companies can lose more than $1.2 billion for every unproductive work hour during the first week of the 2014 NCAA Division I men's tournament, according to global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. An estimated 50 million Americans are participating in office pools related to the tourney.

"While March Madness distractions may not alter the nation's quarterly GDP numbers, you can be assured that department managers and network administrators notice the effect on work output and company-wide Internet speeds," said John A. Challenger, CEO of the firm.

Challenger indicated the impact on productivity comes from several directions, the largest coming on Thursday and Friday, when games start tipping off in the middle of the work day on the East Coast.

David Strand, a partner at labor and employment law firm Fisher & Phillips in Murray Hill, noted companies won't be able to stop everyone from watching games on their phones or checking scores online, but employers can attempt to stem the loss in productivity by laying down some ground rules.

"You may think about putting television sets or computer monitors in break rooms or coffee rooms of lunch rooms, and allow them to get caught up while they're on their breaks, so they're not doing it at their desks," Strand suggested.

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