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.
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.