Time off Work During World Cup 2010

One week into the World Cup and England’s right of passage to the next round hangs by a thread. With the team’s all-deciding final group game to take place on Wednesday, there is a potential headache for employers in balancing the advantages a feel-good factor that progress in the competition could bring to the workforce against the disadvantages of trying to ensure that their business does not suffer during this time.

The Chartered Management Institute recently published the results of a survey conducted in May 2010 on the impact the tournament will have on businesses. When managers were asked what impact major sporting events have on the workplace, the most popular responses were:

44% - boost in morale
39% - impact of distractions on productivity
36% - improvement in relationships within the organisation.

It is interesting therefore that, despite boost in morale being the most common response, the survey also found that only 14% of managers reported that their organisations are making provisions for staff to watch games at work, 13% are allowing staff to work flexibly around the games and 6% are planning a team event around important games.

Perhaps the most worrying thing to come out of the survey was that managers expected an average of 2.35 hours of productivity to be lost, per employee, over the course of the tournament. Bearing all this in mind, employers need to make sure they have a plan in place to deal with requests for time off and how to minimise the risk of employees taking unauthorised time off to watch, or recover from imbibing during, the games.

Employers may be well advised to agree a plan to enable staff, where possible, to watch matches, where employees do not wish to take annual leave. This should be expected not only to boost morale, but also reduce the likelihood of employees calling in sick or taking unauthorised absence. If arrangements are to be made, a policy should be circulated stipulating what these are. Suggested arrangements include allowing employees to work flexibly (for example allowing them to leave early provided they make the time up) or allowing staff to watch the television or listen to the radio at work during short regular breaks. Consideration should be given prior to the circulation of any policy that not all employees are football fans. It may be that staff members would prefer to have time off for sporting events such as Wimbledon, which starts this week, or that they would otherwise like to work flexibly for non-sports related reasons. The answer might be that the concessions are a gesture of goodwill to mark the World Cup, which is very popular, but comes around only every four years – but employers should be prepared to answer such questions if they are raised and it does not wish to extend its measures to other circumstances.

If such a policy is adopted, it should make clear that any arrangements made are entirely at the organisation’s discretion and any abuse will result in the privilege being withdrawn. In addition the employer should always remind employees that the needs of the business do come first and that, while it will try and accommodate employees’ wishes, there may be times where this is not possible. Employers should also make sure they have a TV licence in place if employees will be watching the matches at work, as highlighted in a previous blog entry - ‘World Cup TV Licensing Headache for Employers’ which was posted on 1 June 2010.

It may also be sensible to make clear that, in the absence of an alcohol and drugs policy already being in place, employees are not to consume alcohol or drugs at work or return to work following such consumption, and breach of this will result in disciplinary action being taken. If an alcohol and drugs policy is in place, employees should be reminded of its existence and the consequences of any breach of it.

Finally, it is important to remember that there may be employees of different nationalities who want to watch their own teams’ matches. Any policy must apply equally to those employees in respect of games involving their home nations if race discrimination claims are not to be risked.

Regardless of whether any of the steps suggested above are implemented, if employees are taking unauthorised absence when games are on or the day after a game, or during or after games not stipulated in the policy if one is in place, the starting point for any employer is to conduct a reasonable investigation. As in any case where an employee is suspected of lying, unless the employer can show it had reasonable grounds to suspect that the employee was lying, an accusation by an employer that an employee is lying may amount to a fundamental breach of contract enabling an employee to resign and bring claims based on constructive dismissal. If an employer has reasonable grounds for suspicion then it should utilise the organisation’s disciplinary procedure and ensure it is followed fairly, particularly where an employee has over one year’s continuous service, and so has protection against unfair dismissal. This can often be a particularly difficult issue for employers and so they are advised to contact Lanyon Bowdler’s Employment department for further advice should such a situation arise.