ACAS have publicly called for employers to consider allowing staff time off to watch the European Championships, which take place in France from 10th June 2016 to the 10th July 2016.
With this in mind, what potential issues doe the Euros pose for employers and what issues are likely to arise as a result?
The kick off times vary between 2pm and 8pm and the main issues that are likely to affect both employers and employees will be around:
- Requests for annual leave;
- Sickness absence; and
- Internet and social media use during work hours.
Below are some of the steps that both employers and employees should consider prior to, and during the tournament.
Before the start of the European Championship or any other major sporting event, it would be best to have agreements in place regarding issues such as time off, sickness absence or even watching TV during these events. Employers should remind their employees about the absence reporting procedures and that unauthorised absences will be treated as a disciplinary matter.
Employees should also be aware that at certain times, a more flexible approach (eg. to working hours and annual leave) may not always be possible as the employer will need to maintain a certain working level.
Employers may have to deal with an increase in holiday requests from employees who want time off to watch matches.
A company’s annual leave policy should give guidance as to how to book time off. Employers may wish to look at being more flexible when allowing employees leave during this period, with the understanding that this will be temporary arrangement.
The key is for both parties to try and come to an agreement.
Employees should remember that it may not be possible to accommodate all requests but employers should deal with requests fairly and consistently. We would recommend that employers try their best to adopt a consistent approach to other major sporting events in granting leave - as not everyone is a fan of football.
Where holiday requests cannot be granted, it may be possible to be flexible around working hours.
One option that may be agreeable would be to have a more flexible working day, when employees may come in a little later or finish sooner and then agree when this time can be made up.
Employers may allow staff to swap shifts with the manager’s permission or allow staff to take a break during match times. Allowing staff to listen to the radio or watch the TV may be another possible option.
It is important to be fair and consistent with all staff if you allow additional benefits during the European Championship.
A real potential area of concern is likely to be employees pulling “sickies” to watch important matches; in other cases, employees may be genuinely too ill to attend work due to the impact of their celebrations (or commiserations) the night before.
Employer’s normal sickness policies will still apply during this time and these policies should be operated fairly and consistently for all staff. Levels of attendance should be monitored during this period in accordance with the attendance policy and employees need to be clear that any unauthorised absence or patterns in absence could result in formal proceedings. This could include monitoring high levels of sickness, late attendance or lower levels of performance at work due to post event celebrations.
Employers could try to deter employees from calling in sick, for example by deciding to conduct return to work absences for every absence during this period. All managers should also be prepared to follow through the approach of the employer once the tournament starts.
Use of Social Networking Sites and Websites
There is likely to be an increase in the use of social networking sites or sporting websites covering the European Championship.
There may be problems around staff watching lengthy coverage via their computers or mobile phones, constantly checking for text updates or having the games on in communal areas.
Employers should give employees a clear steer before the tournament about what will and will not be acceptable behaviour; for example, reminding employees about any policies regarding the acceptable personal use of mobile phones and computers.
Employers should also have a clear policy regarding web use in the workplace. If employers are monitoring internet usage, then the data protection regulations require them to make it clear that it is happening to all employees. A policy dealing with use of the internet should make clear what is and what is not acceptable usage.
Drinking or Being Under the Influence at Work
Finally, some people may like to participate in a drink or two while watching the match or even may go to the pub to watch a match live.
It is important to remind employees that anyone caught drinking at work or found to be under the influence of alcohol in the workplace could be subject to disciplinary procedures. Employers should make their position on this point clear for example if there is a no alcohol policy at work, employees should be reminded of this fact.
Employers need to be careful of being sensitive to all employees during the tournament. Not everyone will be interested in the European Championship and some employees may even feel aggrieved if they appear to be being penalised at the expense of their football-fan colleagues, which could even potentially lead to claims of discrimination.
In particular, employers should be wary of the following scenarios where:
- England fans are given dispensation to watch games but fans of other countries are not, this could give rise to discrimination claims on the grounds of nationality/race;
- Male staff are permitted extra leeway to leave early/come in late where female staff are not, as this could prompt sex discrimination claims; and
- Passions run high during the tournament and employees must be reminded to behave in an inappropriate manner towards each other. The risk of harassment claims on the grounds of race/nationality is particularly worth bearing in mind here.
If you have any questions arising from this article or would like further information on employment law and major sporting events, please get in touch with a member of our Employment Team.