Stay on the ball – HR office issues during the World Cup


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As the football World Cup tournament approaches, Peter Byrne, head of HR Legal Service, explains potential employment issues.

As everyone is likely to be aware, what with office sweepstakes (Honduras anyone?) and holiday requests, the 2014 World Cup is almost upon us.

Kick-off is on Thursday 12 June 2014 and the final is to be held on 13 July 2014. As with any large sporting event, there are a few employment issues that organisations should be aware of, including:

  • annual leave requests
  • sickness absence
  • fitness to work
  • websites accessed during working hours
Here is a quick round up on how to tackle some likely employment issues without seeing red:

Annual leave

Employers may see an increase in requests for last minute annual leave as teams progress through the stages. A company’s annual leave policy should give guidance as to how to book time off. However, during events like the World Cup, employers may wish to consider being more flexible when allowing leave, with the understanding that this is a temporary arrangement. For instance, if you normally require two weeks’ notice before granting a holiday request, you may decide to allow a degree of flexibility while the matches run, on the understanding that this is an exception.

Sickness absence

It will probably be worth reiterating your sickness absence policy, including your absence reporting procedures, reinforcing the fact that employees must still comply with it during the World Cup. In other words, make it clear that a text sent at 11.00am to say they can’t come in because they drank too much the night before will not be acceptable and if anyone is found abusing the sickness absence policy then this will be dealt with as a formal disciplinary matter.

Fitness to work

Brazil is four hours behind the UK so many games will take place after work hours. However, this can raise issues in itself. For instance, employees may stay out late to watch matches and then attend work tired or still under the influence from post-match celebratory/commiseratory drinks. Employers should make it clear to employees that they will be expected to attend work in a fit state and should outline how unacceptable behaviour will be dealt with. The key is to be clear about your expectations and then consistent in terms of enforcing them.

Website use during work hours

Employers should make sure that they have a clear policy in place about internet use. However, you might also decide that, during events like the World Cup, you are prepared to be flexible in relation to that policy. You may choose to allow employees to watch or listen to matches while at work, on the understanding that taks must still be completed to the appropriate standard.

While the aforementioned time difference will make this less of an issue in workplaces operating standard office hours, employers operating shift patterns may want to put in place such contingency procedures. This sort of flexibility can increase morale and decrease issues such as unauthorised absences. However, there is certainly no obligation for employers to permit this.

There may be an increase in the use of social networking sites such as Twitter or Facebook. Again, employers should have a strong policy in place that they can stick to, or make it clear what the exceptions are during the World Cup.

They think it’s all over…

In all of the above examples, the main points to remember are clarity, communication and consistency. Have a clear position on something, communicate it to your employees and then stick to it.

It is now.

A final point to note is that employers should not assume that all employees will be supporting England. If exceptions are made for England matches, they will need to be made for employees supporting other teams.

Peter Byrne is head of HR Legal Service and MD of ESP

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