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FIFA WORLD CUP – guidance for employers?

It seems that every time there is a major global sporting tournament employers must consider whether they should allow staff time off to watch them and if they don’t, how they deal with subsequent staff absence. Many businesses are now entering a busy Christmas period, so the timing of the tournament and England’s games could potentially be a real headache.

What is the best way to deal with the issues that arise from any staff absences, which may affect the ability to maintain business as usual for customers and clients?

The timing of the early England games during the qualifying stage varies between daytime and evening kick-offs, but if they progress through the group stages it becomes a little more difficult for businesses to manage.

As a starting point it is a good idea to remind all staff of the company policy for requesting time off and notification of sickness absence. 

Yes, it is a once in a four year event, but an employer does not have to accept a holiday request and it is important that all staff are treated fairly and consistently.  If you do decide to make allowances for changes in working hours to accommodate watching a game or starting later the following day, then it is important that it is stressed that this is a temporary arrangement and that employers deal with other staff requests which are not football related with similar sympathy.

Without seeking to make assumptions about the gender of football fans, it is likely that if an employer has agreed to a small alteration in hours for many male employees, then a refusal of a request for the alteration to a female member of staff’s hours for other reasons could lead to claims of discrimination in the future.

If the company is going to take a hard line in relation to sickness absence, it is important that the employees are told about this prior to the event and that the procedure does not depart from any contractual scheme.  Employers will have to be very sure of their facts to take disciplinary action and in any event should be careful to follow the statutory disciplinary procedures, to avoid a trip to the employment tribunal.

And what if the worst-case scenario happens, for example an employee watching in a pub is then involved in violent or disorderly behaviour, and worst case scenario they are arrested. What can the employer do then?  The answer is not as straightforward as you might imagine.  Behaviour which takes place in an employees’ own time may not give an employer sufficient justification for dismissal.  Past cases have shown that irrespective of the need to follow the correct procedures an employer must carefully consider all aspects of the situation including the employee’s version of events and their employment history with the company. Harder now with so much shared on multiple social media platforms which can ‘go viral’.

If you have any questions about how to tackle this issue with employees, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Amanda Finn is a partner at Gullands Solicitors and can be contacted at T: 01622 689700