Football Fever

The World Cup has kicked off and whilst the fans can barely contain their excitement, for employers it’s a potential banana skin.

The first obvious issue for employers during the World Cup is that of employee absences.  With the group stage games taking place at 5pm, 8pm and 11pm UK time, there is a real risk that employees who stay up late may come in late, or not be able to attend work the next day at all - particularly if they’ve had a few drinks to celebrate their team’s success (or to drown their sorrows). In addition, employees may want to leave work early to make sure they can get home (or wherever they intend to watch the match) in good time before it starts.  

With these potential issues in mind, it’s certainly worth employers giving some thought to the approach they want to take before the tournament starts.  Obviously, the level of absenteeism you anticipate will depend on your particular workforce, but we would recommend that over the next few days you remind employees about your absence reporting procedures and that unauthorised absences will be treated as a disciplinary matter. In fact, if your policies allow, you may want to impose more robust absence reporting procedures for the duration of the tournament to try and deter employees from calling in sick; for example you might decide to conduct return to work absences for every absence during this period. You will also need to prepare your managers to follow through your approach once the tournament starts.

Once at work, the World Cup may affect employees’ behaviour. For example, employees may spend their time streaming games to their computers or phones, constantly checking for text updates or have the games on in communal areas.  Given the timing of the matches, this shouldn’t be a big issue for 9-5 staff; however, where staff work outside these hours or, for example, where evening/night shifts operate, there is a real risk that productivity will fall during this period.

To try and pre-empt this, we recommend that you give employees a clear steer before the tournament about what will and will not be acceptable behaviour; for example, you may want to remind them about any policies you have regarding the acceptable personal use of mobile phones and computers.  If you don’t have a policy on this, now would be a good time to implement one. If employees are permitted to watch games whilst at work, for example whilst on breaks, we recommend reminding them about acceptable behaviour whilst doing so (for example reminding them about any drugs/alcohol policies you might have) and being clear about what breaks employees are entitled to take.  After all, it’s very hard for a football fan to go back to work if the match has reached a crucial point even if their break has come to an end.

If your workforce is likely to be ‘football obsessed’, you may decide the path of least resistance is to simply embrace the World Cup.  For example, if operational requirements allow, you might let employees leave early so they can watch the 5pm kick offs, or come in late after 11pm matches the night before.  You may even deliberately encourage staff to watch games collectively; after all these sort of events can be brilliant for raising morale.

However, employers need to be careful of being sensitive to all employees during the tournament.  Not everyone will be interested in the World Cup and some employees may even feel aggrieved if they appear to be being penalised at the expense of their football mad colleagues, which could even potentially lead to claims of discrimination – e.g. if male staff are permitted extra leeway to leave early/come in late where female staff are not this could prompt sex discrimination claims.  Similarly if 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.   The risk of harassment claims on the grounds of race/nationality is particularly worth bearing in mind in the context of what constitutes acceptable behaviour in the office – passions can run high during games, and employees need to be reminded not to do anything which might create an intimidating, offensive or hostile environment. Employers should keep a watching brief on any particularly exuberant supporters to make sure the support of their national team doesn’t overstep the appropriate boundaries. At the end of the day, it’s a funny old game isn’t it?