• Is Your Organisation Fit for the World Cup?
  • June 10, 2010 | Authors: Anne Davies; Michelle Haste
  • Law Firm: Crowell & Moring - London Office
  • World Cup fever is taking hold again in the UK. Surveys from previous tournaments showed that employees were not averse to calling in sick to watch a match. This year, the Xpert HR survey of 100 HR Directors reveals that 63% of organisations have already made provision for employees to watch games during the World Cup, possibly to address this problem, although a survey of employers generally indicates that not all businesses have taken the lead that perhaps HR professionals have.

    Only one of England's group stage matches falls in the traditional working day, so the problem looks reduced compared to other years... until you consider shift workers and those supporting other teams. Of course, should England progress beyond the group stages, the problem may become more acute as expectation builds. Here are a few tips to get you through the absence issue (and others) in the weeks ahead.

    • Carefully consider your absence policy, and as match fever increases, take the time to remind your staff of the provisions of your policy - in particular the fact of return to work interviews (which statistically reduce short term absence), and the operation of a SSP scheme (which means that employees will not be entitled to SSP during the first three days of any absence - unless there is a contractual right to sick pay).
    • If you have a holiday policy (and you should) consider carefully how you will deal with last minute requests to take holiday to watch the game from home, or head to South Africa because a ticket has become unexpectedly available. If you are relaxing the policy make this known to your staff to engender good will, but be sure to operate a fair system to avoid any claims of discrimination.
    • Think about being flexible, it is easier to cope with planned absences rather than dealing with ad hoc absences. Is it feasible to operate a temporary flexible working policy allowing employees to modify start/end times or swap shifts or to work from home? Again be careful that you operate such practices fairly to avoid complaints from employees who have made unsuccessful requests for flexible working in the past. Supermarket chains Asda and Tesco have both indicated that they will allow a level of flexibility to allow the staff to watch the games provided the businesses have an appropriate level of cover.
    • Consider providing facilities to watch some of the matches (assuming you have a TV licence!). In the group phase of the competition, there are matches every day kicking off at 12.30 GMT, so providing facilities over the lunch break may engender goodwill. Remember, however, that care should be taken to remind staff of other applicable policies. Think about any alcohol and drugs policy - for example a ban on alcohol during work hours (being under the influence of alcohol whilst at work is usually a disciplinary matter and appropriate action could include dismissal). The provisions of any non-harassment policy will also be key - match banter could be perceived as being racist by the recipient and you as employer will be vicariously liable for any such comments made during matches watched at work during working time.
    • If you are providing facilities to watch the game, ensure that the opportunity is fair to all - for example do not allow workers to watch only England matches - this could unfairly discriminate against foreign nationals wanting to watch their team play. Similarly, do not assume that only your male workers will want to watch matches as this could constitute sex discrimination.
    • Think about your policy for dress code. If you relax it to allow supporters to wear their team shirts, you will need to think about being flexible around other events too.
    • Health and Safety should be a paramount consideration, and policies relating to this should not be relaxed - whilst it should not be necessary to remind grown ups not to stand on desks and chairs to get a better view, any inappropriate behaviour should be dealt with, and if the workplace environment is to be decorated ensure that there are no tripping hazards and that fire regulations are adhered to.
    • Carefully consider your IT policy - if you are not providing facilities to watch matches, staff may be tempted to watch the game from their workstation, or scrutinise blogs and news sites. Consider the impact this may have on your system and remind staff about the provisions of the policy.
    • Many employers are using the tournament as an opportunity to motivate staff and build goodwill. This may also work for your business - think about adding some flexibility around working hours and allowing staff to make up the time spent watching "the beautiful game".

    The key message is to be firm but fair and stick to your policies as you would normally do, and if you are relaxing your policies, then use this as an opportunity to engender goodwill amongst your staff.

    As you read this and it strikes you that you do not have appropriate policies in place then seriously think about amending your handbook. Whilst the World Cup comes around only once in four years, and therefore there is plenty of time before the next tournament, remember there is Wimbledon... test matches... AND the Olympics to look forward to!