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If Football Is Coming Home.......Are Your Employees Staying at Home?


Strategies for avoiding red cards for unauthorised absences and other thorny issues for the summer season of sport.

World Cup fever is taking hold in the UK. Recent surveys have indicated that a significant number of employees called in sick around a world cup match in the last tournament. It is not clear whether this was to watch the match uninterrupted, or as a result of over indulging following the match the night before. Here are a few tips to get you through the absence issue (and others) now that the English team are through to the next round.

  • Carefully consider your absence policy, and as the match fever increases, take the time to remind your staff of the provisions of your policy – in particular the fact of return to work interviews (which statistically reduce short term absence), and the operation of a SSP scheme (which means that employees will not be entitled to SSP during the first three days of any absence – unless there is a contractual right to sick pay).
  • Consider providing facilities to watch the game – but remember that care should be taken to remind staff of other applicable policies – for example a ban on alcohol during work hours (being under the influence of alcohol whilst at work is usually a disciplinary matter and appropriate action could include dismissal), and the provisions of the non-harassment policy – match banter could be perceived as being racist by the recipient and you as employer will be vicariously liable for any such comments made during matches watched at work during working time.
  • If you are providing facilities to watch the game, ensure that the opportunity is fair to all – for example do not allow workers to watch only the England match – this could unfairly discriminate against nationals wanting to watch for example the Trinidad and Tobago match. Similarly do not assume that only your male workers will want to watch the game – this could constitute sex discrimination.
  • Think about your policy for dress code – if you relax it to take into account allowing supporters to wear their strip you will need to think about being flexible around other events too.
  • If you have a holiday policy (and you should) consider carefully how you will deal with last minute requests to head to Germany because a worker's team has done better than expected (or if you are relaxing the policy make this known to your staff to engender good will).
  • Carefully consider your IT policy – if you are not providing facilities to watch the game, staff may be tempted to download programs so that the game can be watched from their workstation – consider the impact this may have on your system and remind staff about the provisions of the policy.
  • Many employers are using the tournament as an opportunity to motivate staff and build goodwill. This may also work for your business – think about adding some flexibility around working hours and allowing staff to make up the time spent watching “the beautiful game”

The key message is to be firm but fair and stick to your policies as you would normally do, and if you are relaxing your policies, then use this as an opportunity to engender goodwill amongst your staff.

As you read this if it strikes you that you do not have appropriate policies in place – then seriously think about amending your handbook. Whilst the World Cup comes around only once in four years, and therefore there is plenty of time for the next tournament, remember there is Wimbledon … test matches… Euro 2008… AND the Olympics to look forward to!

If you would like a review of your handbook please call a member of the London Labour and Employment Team of Crowell & Moring, or your usual contact to discuss your needs.

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