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Employees and the World Cup – managing requests for time off

Employees and the World Cup – managing requests for time off

Occasionally a sporting event will have such widespread appeal that it can have an impact on the workplace, cause disruption and feelings of inequality amongst staff. All these can equal headaches for the employer – so how can an employer position themselves so that such events do not require draconian action and instead promote employee engagement. Much of what you decide will depend on whether the events enter into working hours.

Think ahead about how you will treat requests for time off – especially if several people want the same day or afternoon off. Will it be first come first served or will you pre empt the matter and ask for applications for sports events related holiday to be requested by a certain date and then distribute it fairly according to the number of applicants.

Sporting events policies
A policy on major sporting events can help employers to avoid disruption by ensuring that employees are aware of what is expected of them. You could have a policy covering all major sporting events, or publish a new policy for each specific large event.

Topics to include in the policy might be:

booking annual leave;
temporary flexible working arrangements;
measures to deal with unauthorised absence;
internet use;
alcohol consumption; and
how issues such as poor timekeeping will be dealt with.
Employers should consider whether to take a “business as usual” approach and make clear that any breach of normal rules will be dealt with as a disciplinary issue, or to accept that there is likely to be some disruption, introduce some flexibility to allow employees to follow the events, and focus on avoiding serious misconduct.

Some employees will place great importance on following events like the world cup, and enabling them to do so can be an effective way of increasing employee morale.

If popular matches or events are taking place during working hours, the employer could decide to screen the event at the workplace. This could avoid unauthorised absence, and be beneficial to employee relations. Whether or not this is feasible, and the arrangements that should be put in place if it is, will depend on the nature of the workplace and staffing requirements.

You could operate a temporary flexible working arrangement for the duration of the event. However, do bear in mind that if you are flexible for an event that is important to some it isn’t necessarily important to all, and some staff may feel aggrieved that their interests are not held in such high regard. If the world cup is so important, is Wimbledon not equally important to tennis fans?

Where particularly popular sporting events are to take place during working hours, employers are likely to receive a number of requests to take annual leave at the same time.

The employer could decide to operate a “first come, first served” system for employees requesting annual leave during the relevant period, in which case it should make this clear to employees at an early stage. Employers should also deal fairly with requests for time off for other reasons during the relevant period. Prioritising requests for watching, for example, a World Cup match over normal holiday requests raises the risk of discrimination (for example on grounds of age and sex if most requests for time off to watch the match are made by young male employees). To avoid grievances, the employer should check that its policy in relation to annual leave requests is applied consistently and does not favour or disadvantage any particular group.

To control employees’ expectations, the employer’s sporting events policy could state that it will make every effort to accommodate annual leave requests to follow the events, but that it may not be possible to grant all requests because of the operational requirements of the organisation.

Employers should also take into account that not all employees will be supporting British teams or competitors and should try to avoid disadvantaging employees of other nationalities when deciding on requests for time off, or when allowing flexible working. For example, if the employer allows employees to leave early to watch an England match during the World Cup, it should apply the same policy to employees who support different countries.

You should be aware of the potential for harassment, for example if national rivalries relating to a football match lead to intimidating or offensive comments or behaviour, even where employees do not intend this to be genuinely hostile.

You may wish to consider communicating with employees in advance about the use of the internet at work during the world cup. You could remind employees of any company policies on internet use or notify employees of specific arrangements that will apply for the duration of the event, where it anticipates that this will be an issue.

Some sporting events have more of a history of resulting in public disorder than others. If an employee is involved in criminal behaviour outside of work, such as being drunk and disorderly, the employer should consider whether or not disciplinary action is appropriate in the circumstances. It will not necessarily be fair to discipline or dismiss an employee because he or she is charged with, or convicted of, a criminal offence committed outside of work. The employer should consider whether or not the offence has any connection with his or her work, for example if it affects the trust that the employer has in him or her to carry out the particular role, or the reputation of the organisation. If taking disciplinary action, the employer must ensure that it follows a fair procedure.

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