Rugby Fever – a ‘TRY’ing time for employers?

18th September 2015 marks the kick-off of the Rugby World Cup, which is due to last for around six weeks with the final being played on 31 October 2015. Love it or loathe it, you will not be able to avoid it.

It will be vital that employers plan early to reduce the impact on staffing and productivity levels. Many employers could be expecting a spike in annual leave requests and absenteeism. This is especially so if employers operate evening shift patterns, with England’s group stage games all kicking off at 8pm.

With England being the host Nation, with help from our friends in Scotland and Wales, rugby fever is almost certain to grip the Nation(s).

Employers could encounter problems with over enthusiastic employees who are heading out of work to catch the games, which will primarily be shown in the afternoons and in the evening. With many rugby fans, even the casual ones, determined not to miss out on this sporting event that only comes round once every four years, employers should recognise that the tournament also provides an opportunity to take advantage of high morale and improve levels of employee engagement.

Potential Issues: 

Don’t get caught making a forward pass 

There are a number of potential issues for employers to consider in the run up to the main event:

  • Too many employees may want to take annual leave on the same day;
  • Higher levels of unauthorised sickness absences;
  • Abuse of internet policy;
  • Discrimination; and
  • Harassment.

In light of the potential issues employers may face, it would be advisable to consider the steps which can be taken to reduce the risks well in advance of the start of the World Cup. 

How to set up your defensive line and kick issues into touch

  • Installing a TV for all key games – not just the England matches.
  • Harnessing enthusiasm for the tournament through themed team activities
  • Reminding staff about the organisation’s sickness absence policy
  • Setting some ground rules to cover behaviour throughout the tournament
  • Initiating flexible working
  • Accommodating non-rugby fans

Setting Out Expectations 

The first step is to ensure that all company policies are up to date, are clear and set out the consequences of any breaches; and that they have been issued to all of your employees, to ensure no one falls foul. The key policies which should be considered are as follows:

  1. Holiday Policy;
  2. Sickness Absence Policy;
  3. Unauthorised Absence Policy;
  4. Equal Opportunities Policy;
  5. Internet and E-mail Usage and Monitoring / Social Media Policy; and
  6. Disciplinary Policy.

By doing this, you can ensure that employees are clear as to what they are permitted to do, and what is expected of them. This will make it easier for you to deal with anyone that crosses the line.

How to tackle absences

During such high profile popular sporting events, which tend to last over the course of several weeks, statistics show that employee absences cost UK businesses millions of pounds per day, with most people pulling ‘sickies’ on the day after a key match.

To try to avoid unplanned absences, encourage staff to take annual holiday leave if they want to watch the rugby and enjoy the associated festivities. Be careful to ensure that it is made clear to employees that requests for leave are not guaranteed to be approved and holiday requests will be granted fairly.

Further, make it clear to employees in advance that unauthorised absences during the tournament will be subject to closer scrutiny and they may have to participate in a return to work interview.


Employers might want to consider offering employees the opportunity to work flexibly around games. For example, you could allow employees to work through their lunch breaks, or come into work early and then leave early in order to watch the game.

Although, on the face of it, this is more likely to apply to shift workers, or those who work more unsociable hours, due to the timing of the games there could be some very tired employees come the morning after the night before.

There is huge goodwill to be gained from accommodating flexible working requests, as it is a great way to thank and engage staff. To ensure that nothing slips through the net, it should be made clear that any such arrangement will need to be pre-approved in order to ensure that adequate cover is available.

All offers of flexible working must be made available to all employees, regardless of whether they want to watch the rugby. Limiting the offer to rugby fans only is likely to alienate certain employees and cause tension in the workplace.

Watching at work – keeping an eye on the ball

Fortunately, for many employers, most popular matches are scheduled to kick off during the evening, which will limit some of the disruption to the working day although there are several which start mid-afternoon. However, the impact may be more extensive amongst employees who regularly works late shifts, night shifts and weekends.

Employers may wish to consider showing the rugby at work or even making it into an event that all employees are welcome to attend. Remember to be alert to the fact that not everyone will want to be involved and that all employees should be given the same benefits as employees supporting the England team and the ‘home nations’.

But as exciting as the World Cup is, it does have the potential to distract workers and therefore it is important to ensure that employees are aware of clearly defined time frames when they can watch games at work.

Dealing with Alcohol

Many of the tournament’s matches will take place during the evening and it is likely most rugby fans will be enjoying the game with a drink in hand. Employers need to make it clear that it is unacceptable to come to work suffering from the effects of alcohol the next day such that they are incapable of performing their duties properly. Again, make sure you have an up to date alcohol policy and consider sending a memo reminding staff of its contents.

Internet and Social Media Policies

Employers may find that employees spend a significant amount of time on the internet, getting score updates or general news about the tournament. Therefore, set out a clear policy about what and will not be tolerated and then trust that your employees will abide by the rules set.

World Cup Key Fixtures – including England and Home Nations’ matches, the more popular teams and the knock out stages

Click here to view table.


Let’s ensure that this World Cup is not littered with errors from employers and that they defend themselves against the potential issues that may result. Now is the time to revisit and update employment policies, and make sure that these are issued to staff, to guarantee that everyone has an enjoyable World Cup experience.