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Legal Updates

Offside During the World Cup

07 July 2010 #Employment


Since Friday June 11th, the World Cup has been a potential cause for concern for employers.  Fans have travelled to the other side of the world to support their home countries and plans are set in place for the games to be watched over a whole month.  

But, with all of this effort going into supporting one`s home team will this mean that it will have a detrimental impact elsewhere? Answer: yes!

Businesses all around are affected.  Whether you are an employer having to take additional staff on to cope with the demand of pulling pints or whether you are the employer having to cope with absent or late staff watching the games, the World Cup causes disruption to many businesses.

Potential Problems

The main issue that employers will face is employees taking time off to watch matches regardless of whether this time is authorised or not. Where employees do attend work on match days, other problems could arise where they turn up late or leave early, particularly when matches are held during the day.

It was feared that absent staff could cost the economy up to £1bn in lost working hours (according to a survey carried out by the Chartered Management Institute).   Following an abysmal couple of years during the recession, businesses will be hit even further with the cost of absent staff. This is not an issue purely for South Africa 2010, but for all kinds of sporting events - Wimbledon, the Ryder Cup, Ashes and next year the Rugby World Cup. However, with careful planning and reasonable decisions, goodwill could be gained in the workforce that will help boost morale and minimise any disruption caused to businesses.

The UK workforce is diverse and throughout the World Cup, employers have needed to consider those staff who work outside normal hours and those who are not English and wish to support their home teams. 

It is vital therefore for businesses to take preventative action if they have not done so already or consider revising practices in place.   Businesses will however have to be careful of what action or sanction that they impose to prevent disruption occurring without creating a rift with the workforce.  

We must also not forget those businesses which will benefit from employees taking time off to watch matches....in pubs or allocated outdoor arenas.

These employers will need to be wary of over-worked staff, abuse from fans or even their own staff joining in with the punters.  

Employment issues to watch out for

  •  Sickness absence 
  •  Flexible working 
  •  Staff being distracted by on-line coverage 
  • Work productivity decreased 
  • Concentration diverted as a result of football conversations  
  • Health & Safety issues 
  • Discrimination
  • How to avoid potential problems
In a bid to avoid or prevent issues which may arise, employers need to be prepared and put in place measures to deal with issues such as unauthorised absence.

Once strategies and/or policies are in place businesses will need to ensure that they are communicated to all staff so that they know what to do and what to expect especially when any policies have been breached.

Practical Tips

  • Agreeing with employees that they can take the relevant day off as part of their annual leave entitlement

Problem?

Most if not all employees will take the same time off.  Employers will have to exercise their discretion.  Perhaps adopting an approach of a first come first served basis will ensure fairness.  

  • Consider allowing changes to starting/finishing times or allowing breaks during the day

Problem?

Availability of staff to deal with anything urgent.  Perhaps creating a rota where employees are all given a chance to start/finish for different matches to ensure that there is adequate cover.  Employees should be reminded that they will need to make up any time taken off to watch matches. 

  • Consider allowing staff to swap shifts

Problem?

Potential abuse of system which could lead to requests being made in future if this is not the employer`s intention.  Employers should exercise their discretion carefully and keep a record of all requests.  

  • Providing a television/radio at work   

Problem?

Disruption caused to rest of workforce/clients.  Perhaps set up the equipment in a separate room.  Employers should consider reserving the right to remove any equipment if too much disruption is caused.  Businesses will also need to ensure that they comply with other regulations e.g. ensuring that they have a TV licence.

  • Allowing on-line commentary and/or updates of scores

Problem?

Potential abuse of work time and concentration deviating from work.  Employers need to closely monitor use of internet during periods when no matches are played.  

Employers need to ensure that any provisions put in place to ease any strain on the business during any sporting event are discretionary only and will not alter normal policies that the business has in place.  This will need to be clearly indicated and communicated to employees. 

Clear guidelines/rules should also be communicated to staff in the event that policies are breached. 

Any unauthorised absence should be dealt with by the business in the normal way.  Businesses could consider requiring any employee taking sick leave on a key match day to provide medical evidence of their sickness absence.

Not all staff requesting time off to watch sport will be male.  Employers should therefore be careful of discrimination issues when deciding who can have the time off. 

Employers should also be mindful of the fact that not all of their employees will be English.  Two issues could arise here.  First, beware of racial discrimination if consent is granted to employees to watch only England games.  Employers must ensure that all staff are afforded the same flexibility to take time off to watch matches.  Harassment could also be an issue to be wary of particularly when you have nationalities in the workforce with their countries playing against each other.  It would be appropriate at this stage to re-issue or remind staff of the business`s equal opportunities and harassment policy.     

Potential criminal issues could also arise with drunken behaviour of employees.  Employers should remind employees of its disciplinary procedures and also highlight any danger to health and safety at work, particularly if any employee operates machinery.  Any employee found to be under the influence of alcohol during work periods should be treated in the same way that they would be treated at any other time.   

These are just a few indicators that employers should consider during this future sporting occasions and lessons to be learnt from South Africa 2010.  Businesses should therefore act quickly in identifying any potential problems and promptly react to them. 

Further advice can be also found in a guidance that has been produced by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and Abbey Legal Protection. 

Clarkslegal, specialist Employment lawyers in London, Reading and throughout the Thames Valley.
For further information about this or any other Employment matter please contact Clarkslegal's employment team by email at employmentunit@clarkslegal.com by telephone 020 7539 8000 (London office), 0118 958 5321 (Reading office) or by completing the form on this page.

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