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World Cup Fever

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The World Cup starts on 11 June 2010 and lasts for a period of approximately a month. With football fever gripping much of the nation, employers could encounter problems with over enthusiastic employees.

Potential Issues for Employers

There are a number of potential issues for employers to consider in the run up to the main event. For example, too many employees may want to take holiday on the same day, employers may become suspicious of sickness absences and some employees may simply be absent without any authorisation. In addition, employers may find that employees are accessing the internet to watch the World Cup games and wasting time. There is also the possibility of both employers and employees acting in an unlawful discriminatory manner towards employees as well as employees harassing their colleagues.

Steps Employers could take to assist with the Issues

In light of the potential issues which employers may face, it would be advisable to consider the steps which could be taken to reduce the risks well in advance of the start of the World Cup. These steps will include ensuring that an employer's policies are up to date, clear, set out the consequences of breach and have been issued to all of its employees. The particular policies which an employer should review are as follows: 

In addition, an employer may wish to consider providing training to its employees in respect of discrimination and harassment in the workplace. In the event that an employee brings a claim for discrimination and/or harassment, an employer may be able to rely on any such training to help defend vicarious liability for discrimination and/or harassment committed by an employee.

Goodwill Gestures

Although, the way in which both employers and employees behave during the World Cup period may cause some issues, it should not be forgotten that the event is an opportunity for employers to encourage a great deal of goodwill amongst their employees. Employers may decide that they would like to put some measures in place to increase flexibility for their employees and thereby reduce the chance that any issues will arise.

For example, employers could consider increasing the number of employees who can take holiday at any one time or allowing employees to take unpaid leave (provided that the business can cover their absence). Another option would be to introduce flexible working hours for all employees to enable them to work around the World Cup games. However, employers may prefer to keep their employees in the office and show the World Cup games in a communal area or allow employees to use their internet access at work to watch the games (in clearly defined time frames).

Points to Note

Goodwill could increase productivity and enthusiasm for an employer's business, but employers should also be cautious if they choose to implement any flexibility measures as well as in the way in which they operate their current policies.

For example, an employer cannot simply discipline an employee for calling in sick on the day of a big game without evidence that his/her sickness absence is unjustified. Employers should investigate all sickness absence during the World Cup period and ask employees to attend a return to work interview to discuss their absence. However, if the employer's policy or current practice is not to investigate sickness absence and/or does not require employees to attend a return to work interview, the employer should inform employees of any change to its policy within a reasonable time of the start of the World Cup period.

Employers should ensure that they are not acting in a discriminatory manner when authorising holiday or putting flexibility measures in place to allow employees to watch World Cup games. For example, employers should give those employees who are of a different nationality the same opportunities as its English employees to watch their country's games. In addition, employers should apply the same flexibility measures to those employees who are not interested in football (these employees may be of a specifically protected group under discrimination law e.g. female). For example, by giving these employees the same options to take unpaid leave or work different hours and possibly by providing a communal area free of football at work.

In addition, employers should ensure that their employees are not acting in a way which could constitute discrimination or harassment. For example, an employer should monitor communication between its employees to ensure that any World Cup ‘banter' does not become inappropriate or offensive. This could lead to harassment claims from the affected employees for which an employer may be held vicariously liable.

If an employer does implement flexibility measures for the World Cup, it should be aware of the precedent that it is setting. For instance, will they allow their employees who enjoy tennis the same flexibility during Wimbledon? These employees may have different characteristics which may be specifically protected under discrimination law.

Summary

Whatever the measures which an employer proposes to implement during the World Cup period, there will inevitably be some suspicious sickness absence and/or unauthorised absence. It is important that an employer is clear about the policies which will apply and how any substantiated unauthorised absences, allegations of discrimination/harassment or time wasting will be treated either through its policies or training. In particular, the employers Equal Opportunities Policy should be emphasised, but all policies should be enforced fairly and consistently.

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