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Employers are prepared for flexible working during World Cup - but only for England games

The forthcoming World Cup has forced employers to take a pragmatic approach to time and attendance, with more than half considering flexible working for staff during the tournament - but only if they support England.

According to legal firm DLA Piper, 51% of employers are investigating the option of flexible working for staff during the football World Cup.

The survey of 352 business leaders and HR professionals in the UK found the most popular flexible options during the football season are shift swapping (33%), early finishes (59%) and late starts (35%).

But despite their positive approach, only 19% planning to offer flexible working patterns for all World Cup matches in which England are not playing and 76% plan to offer no flexibility at all to staff who don't follow football.

And while a high proportion of businesses said that they would offer flexibility around the World Cup, only 22% of those planning to do so were considering offering the same freedom during other sporting events, such as Wimbledon or the forthcoming 2012 Olympic Games. 

Although many of the World Cup matches are to be screened online, during working hours, respondents to the survey had not considered their policies towards internet usage during the day, with only 18% reviewing their usage policies to ensure staff were aware of the limits of acceptable internet use. And while many employers recognise the enthusiasm for the World Cup among their staff and are offering flexible working options to accommodate match screenings, only 16% were reviewing their alcohol policies.

Tim Marshall, UK head of employment and partner at DLA Piper, explains why this approach could cause problems: "After what has been a really tough couple of years, a lot of UK businesses are seeing the World Cup as providing a bit of light relief and are offering flexibility as a way of boosting employee relations, as well as trying to mitigate the impact of unexpected absences in the workplace.

"Shift swapping and flexible hours are all great strategies, but business leaders need to consider the finer implications of their actions. By failing to offer staff who follow teams other than England the same opportunities for flexible working, employers are potentially opening themselves up to allegations of discrimination. Equally, by not offering flexible working patterns to staff that don't follow football at all, and expecting them to pick up their colleagues work, bosses could be undoing much of the goodwill they have tried to create."

But according to a staff poll, 84% of McDonald's UK employees are planning to use flexible working initiatives around the World Cup.

David Fairhurst, Senior Vice President and Chief People Officer, McDonald's UK and Northern Europe, said: "The World Cup is set to be a fantastic sporting occasion and will be enjoyed by millions of people across the world - and our people at McDonald's are no exception.  As a World Cup sponsor, we want everyone to have the opportunity to follow their team during the tournament.  Exceptional events like the World Cup have the potential to give employee morale a boost and build great team spirit among colleagues.

"We believe in the value of flexible working, both for employees and for our business, and innovative HR schemes are already proving effective to make sure everyone's able to celebrate the World Cup without it affecting their work.  For instance, we've asked our employees about their World Cup plans, and a significant proportion are planning to take advantage of our flexible working arrangements to avoid missing any key matches.  Football fans on our Friends & Family Contract are already starting to swap shifts with colleagues so they can watch their team in action.  Their appetite for the flexible working options we offer is good news for them and good news for our business."