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Kicking off on Sunday 20 November, the 2022 World Cup is bound to capture the interest of much of the working population across the UK. National sporting events can be a big morale booster (at least as long as the particular team stays in the competition) but they can also disrupt the workplace if not managed properly.
So, before World Cup fever takes hold, it is advisable for employers to communicate their expectations to employees, whether they are working in the office or remotely, for example by setting out in an email what is and isn’t permitted.
Our countdown to kick off provides guidance for employers on some key issues that may arise.
Inevitably during major sporting events, employers can receive a higher number of holiday requests. These should be dealt with in the normal way - on a first come, first served basis. Employers should treat each request in the same way, without giving preference to some requests over others, as this could be deemed discriminatory. So, if employees are allowed to take a half day to watch the England v Iran or Wales v Iran matches on 21 and 25 November respectively, then requests to watch the France v Denmark game on 26 November, should be treated in the same way.
Employers should not automatically assume that absence on the day of, or the day after, a big match is not genuine. Before deciding whether disciplinary action is appropriate, employers should investigate the particular circumstances (including the employee's explanation and any evidence for the absence, such as a doctor's note).
Absenteeism is less likely to happen if employees are made aware that absences are monitored and that unauthorised absence may lead to disciplinary action. At the same time, employees may not take non-genuine sickness absence if they are shown a degree of flexibility – such as allowing them to follow matches at work to some extent, or to finish work earlier and make up the time.
Given that a number of the World Cup matches start at 4pm, employers should plan for how they will deal with requests to finish early on those days. This can be an opportunity for employers to build up goodwill so, if operational needs allow, they could allow employees to make up the time at the start of the day or over lunchtime, or let employees attending the workplace watch matches on screens at work.
For businesses that operate hybrid working, employees who are working remotely potentially have greater flexibility to work around matches as they don’t also have to factor in time travelling to and from work - but this means these employers may well receive requests from employees to work from home on additional days during the World Cup. Again, subject to operational needs, employers may choose to build up goodwill and show some flexibility over the number of days employees attend the workplace in a particular week.
The morning after the night before: what if employees start work late the day after a World Cup match? Employers may decide not to take a strict approach, especially if the employee regularly works longer hours than required. But in other circumstances, employers may take action in the usual way, initially by speaking to the employee on an informal basis and then taking more formal action if this reoccurs.
If employees will be allowed to use work IT systems to watch or follow World Cup matches during work time, employers should provide guidance on what is permitted. For example, it should be made clear that any such use must not be excessive and should not interfere with business needs, and if there are any limitations on what can be viewed or downloaded to work systems.
Healthy banter at work can be beneficial to the business, helping build team spirit and morale. That said, there is a risk of harassment or discrimination, for example where rivalries based on national teams create a hostile, degrading or intimidating working environment - and if that happens, employers should take appropriate action. Employers may consider taking positive steps to remind employees that such behaviour may lead to disciplinary action.
There has also been some controversy for a variety of reasons about the decision to allow Qatar to host the World Cup. This controversy continues in the media and there is therefore additional potential for allegations of discrimination on the grounds of national origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation and gender, which employers should be alert to.
If employees are intoxicated at work, it will normally be appropriate to suspend them immediately. An investigation into their conduct should be carried out, which might include identifying whether there are any underlying reasons for this (such as alcoholism) before taking any disciplinary action.
If the inappropriate behaviour takes place outside work, employers should not assume that this will automatically lead to disciplinary action. This will usually depend on whether the behaviour has any connection with the employee's work and the extent to which it may bring the organisation into disrepute, taking into account the employee's role and behaviour.
So, if employees do engage in any inappropriate behaviour, employers should be prepared to tackle this head on!