Chris Holme, partner and Natasha Adom, associate, both based in Clyde & Co’s London office, outline 10 points to  help UK employers in the countdown to kick off

The World Cup kicks off on 12 June 2014, and this event potentially raises a number  of issues for employers across the world. Some of the points outlined here will  apply everywhere, although some will be less relevant because of different working  practices and employment legislation, as well as time differences. This article  considers the key issues for UK employers.

The World Cup matches will be screened in the evenings in  the UK due to the time difference with Brazil, so employers  that operate during normal working hours may think that  there is little for them to do to prepare for World Cup fever.  But that could prove to be a spectacular own goal, since  there are a number of issues that might affect all employers,  whether or not they operate during normal 9-5 hours. 

10. Requests to leave early

A number of matches start at 5pm UK time on weekdays  and so employers should anticipate and plan for how to  deal with requests to leave early on those days. This can  be an opportunity for employers to build up goodwill with  employees. For example, and if operational needs allow,  by allowing employees to make up the time at the start of  the day or over lunchtime. If appropriate, employers could  also consider arranging for employees to watch matches on  screens at work.

9. Holiday requests

As with other major sporting events, employers may  experience a higher number of holiday requests. These  should be dealt with as with other holiday requests, on a  first come, first served basis and employers should treat  each request in the same way and not show any preference  for some requests over others, as this could be deemed  discriminatory. 

8. No team preference

In particular, it will be important to treat all requests  for holidays or time off in the same way. For example, if  employees are allowed to leave early to watch the England  v Costa Rica match on Tuesday 24th June which kicks  off at 5pm UK time, then requests to watch the Nigeria v  Argentina match, which is at the same time the following  day, should be treated in the same way. 

7. World Cup-itis

What if employees are suddenly absent or ill on the day of  a big match or are absent the day after? Employees may be  less likely to take non-genuine sickness absence if there is  a degree of flexibility, for example, if they are able to follow  matches at work to some extent or are able to leave slightly  earlier and make up the time. They are also less likely to  do so if employers make employees aware that absences  are monitored and that any unauthorised absence will be  addressed and may be subject to disciplinary action.  However, employers should not automatically assume that  absence around the time of big matches is not genuine.  They should investigate the particular circumstances  (including considering explanations given by the employee  and any evidence for the absence, such as doctor’s notes)  before deciding whether or not disciplinary action is  appropriate.

6. Lateness: The morning after the night before 

What about employees who come in late the day after a big  match? Employee contracts and handbooks should set out  expectations in relation to timekeeping and hours of work  more generally. If this is not adhered to, it will be open to  employers to take action in the normal way, by speaking  to employees about this initially on an informal basis and  then taking more formal action if their timekeeping does  not improve.

However, in practice and, within reason, employers may  choose not to take a stringent approach to “one-off”  lateness, especially if the employee regularly works longer  hours than required. 

5. What if employees arrive at work intoxicated?

Normally it will be appropriate to immediately suspend  the employee, sending them home in order to investigate  the reasons for this. This might include, for example,  identifying whether there are any underlying reasons for  this (such as alcoholism) before taking appropriate action,  which may include disciplinary action.

4. Off duty conduct

If employees are suspected of hooliganism or  inappropriate behaviour outside work, employers should  not automatically assume that such behaviour must  automatically lead to disciplinary action and should  take advice before taking such a step. Considerations will  include whether the behaviour has any connection with  the employee’s work, including the extent to which the  employee’s behaviour may bring the organisation into  disrepute, bearing in mind both the behaviour and the  employee’s role. 

3. Discrimination 

Healthy banter between employees can help build team  spirit and morale, benefitting the team and the wider  organisation. Employers should, however, be alive to the  risk of harassment or discrimination where rivalries based  on national teams lead to employees creating a hostile,  degrading or intimidating environment for others, in which  case employers should take appropriate action. Employers  may consider taking positive steps to remind employees of  this in advance and that any such behaviour may lead to  disciplinary action being taken. 

2. Company IT tools

Employers should decide in advance whether they are  prepared to allow employees to use IT systems to watch  or follow World Cup matches during work time. If this  is something that will be allowed then guidance should  be issued to employees. For example, to communicate  that any such use must not be excessive and should not  interfere with business needs and requirements and any  limitations on what can or cannot be viewed / downloaded  to work systems. If you are considering allowing live data  streaming using your data connections, it is worth checking  with your IT department first, as significant use of live  streaming can slow your IT systems down and can be  costly if staff are using their company mobile phones to  view the action or if there is a data cap on your broadband  account.

1. Striking the right balance

Before World Cup fever takes hold, employers should be  mindful of setting expectations early and communicating  these to employees - this could be done by circulating  an email in advance, setting out what will and will not  be permitted during the World Cup. At the same time, if  inappropriate behaviour does arise, employers should be  prepared to tackle it head on.