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Emma O'Connor
Emma O'Connor,
World Cup 2014 - Don't be caught offside
10 June 2014

With the World Cup 2014 starting tomorrow, what issues could this global sporting event bring for employers? We report on new ACAS guidance to the World Cup as well as giving you our Employment Team’s best practice guide. To ensure you are not caught offside, read on…

Employment Issues

The World Cup 2014 starts on Thursday 12th June and the final is being held on 13th July. With the 4-hour time difference between Brazil and the UK the majority of England’s matches are being played between 5pm and 11pm. What possible employment issues could employers encounter during this global sporting event?

Increased Requests for Holiday

Employers should check their holiday policies. The holiday policy should set out the steps employees must take before they can take holiday. This may give a notice period – for example 5 days – between the employee requesting holiday and the dates requested. Given the nature of the tournament, it may be that requests are made without the employee being able to give the required notice. How will you deal with such requests? Will you allow requests to be made outside of the notice period on a temporary basis? How have you dealt with other requests in the past? Is it convenient for employees to take holiday during this period? If you are to adopt a more flexible approach to holiday requests during the tournament, make sure that you are clear it is only temporary and all holiday requests are subject to business needs.

Also, remember our holiday pay update… following the Lock decision, holiday pay should include an amount for variable pay, such as commission. See our update, for more details, click here.

Increased Sickness Absence

Look at your sickness procedures. What rules do you have for reporting sickness absence or dealing with sickness absence? What are your sickness payment rules – SSP or additional sick pay? Employers may wish to bring in temporary policy changes for the duration of the World Cup, if their policies allow them the flexibility to do so. However, any policy changes should be discretionary in nature, be temporary, fair and not contradict any contractual or statutory rights an employee has. Moreover, any changes should be proportionate and reasonable. Stopping all sick pay, for example, would be ill advised without some prior consultation with staff, particularly if your business has a contractual sick pay scheme. Also, any changes should only be considered in relation to sickness absence of a short-term nature. Simple changes such as changing reporting procedures so that the employee has to call in – in person - to a member of senior management or asking that staff provide a Fit Note after 4 days’ absence and not 7 are simple ways to show the business is taking the issue of absence seriously during the tournament.

However you manage your sickness reporting procedures it is important that information about who is off sick is communicated appropriately. This means that if HR report to management about a person’s absence, such information should be given without disclosing the actual medical reason (this is for Data Protection Act 1988 purposes) – an open email to a whole team saying someone has a specific ailment is not advisable. Also, if you are introducing a new policy, it must be communicated well in advance to all staff to allow time for any questions or points to be addressed with staff prior to the policy’s introduction. 

Dealing with Unauthorised Absence or a ‘sickie’

From our experience within the Team ways to manage dishonest sickness claims or unauthorised absence include:

  • If you suspect someone is taking unauthorised absence, check their Twitter or Facebook activity – any messages gloating about a “duvet day” are a great way of showing someone is not genuinely ill.
  • Return to work interviews – these are a simple but effective way of putting the absent employee under notice that when they return to work they will have to sit down with their manager and/or HR to discuss why they were off. Knowing there is a meeting to be had with their manager may dissuade some from taking a sickie.
  • Paying SSP only or modifying sick pay – this should be used with caution having first checked which type of sick pay scheme your organisation has. If the sick pay scheme is discretionary you may decide during the World Cup to follow SSP rules and pay nothing further until a Fit Note is provided after 4 days. Discretionary sick pay to be paid and back dated after that time, subject to compliance. As before, it is important to check your organisations’ scheme and take advice before making changes.
  • Reserving the right for employees to provide a Fit Note note for shorter periods of sickness absence – for example after 4 days rather than 7.
  • Consider your self certification process – do you have one, if so, is it being used effectively? If not, how do you record absences of a shorter duration? What happens to the information provided, who checks it, where is the absence recorded?
  • Consider allowing employees to watch some of the matches at work or relaxing internet use policies.

Be proactive – remind staff of your rules on sickness absence and that unauthorised absence will not be tolerated. Be clear that whilst you are sympathetic to those genuinely ill, you take the issue of unauthorised absence seriously and will be closely monitoring absence during the World Cup. If you suspect someone has taken unauthorised absence then you may take steps to discipline under your organisation’s disciplinary procedure. This will involve putting the allegations (and any evidence) to the employee and allowing them to state their case. Any disciplinary decision has the right of appeal. 

Drinking or Being Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs at Work

Reminding staff of their duties under your Drugs and Alcohol Policy is advised. Also, remind staff that they would still be under the influence from the night before. This is particularly relevant for staff that operates machinery or drive.

Some employers may want to hold after work social events for staff. This is great way to boost morale within the workforce. However, think about making such events accessible to all staff, be sensitive that some staff may not drink and may also drive to and from work, and also remember that not all staff will want to watch the football.

Use of Social Media, Internet and Twitter

Ways social media could be misused during the World Cup in particular, are:

  • Gloating about missing work or pulling a ‘sickie’ to watch a particular match
  • Writing abusive comments about an individual player or Team
  • Criticising management for not allowing them to watch a match at work etc
  • Making unfair or offensive remarks about a colleague
  • Spending too much working time posting comments or watching matches online and not working!

General remarks about an event or person may fall outside that which is considered as having an adverse affect on an organisation’s reputation. However, if someone is writing sexist or racist remarks about an individual or inciting such remarks, such behaviour could impact on an organisation’s reputation. Much will depend on when and how the comments were written or whether there is any statement on their Facebook or other social media site that they work for you. Remind staff to think about their use of the internet outside of work and how they conduct themselves on the email or internet as this could adversely affect their employment relationship with you.

To avoid any confusion and ensure that all staff know what to expect, firstly have a clear policy setting out your expectations, and secondly, ask staff to consent to you monitoring and reading emails sent or received on your systems. This does not have to be seen in a negative “Big Brother” way or something purely to discipline staff, but as a practical tool as well – for example, if a member of staff is unwell you may need to access their email account to read business emails. Such consent is easily achieved by putting a section in the contract of employment or asking staff to sign a separate consent document.

Communicate your policies on Equal Opportunities, Diversity and Email/Internet Use so you have warned staff and reminded them of their obligations. Too often an employee will say they didn’t understand the rules – make sure, as employers, you have set yours out clearly. Remind too of the possible sanctions for failing to comply with acceptable employment standards. 

Watching At Work

Although there is no legal right to allow staff to watch matches at work, it might reflect positively on the organisation and perhaps reduce the amount of holiday or sickness absence. If you do allow staff to watch events at work, you must make clear watching at work is a privilege and not a right; it must be incidental to their work for you. You should set out the times/hours when an employee may be allowed to watch and think about whether staff will be required to make up any lost time. Allowing staff to watch at work may reduce unauthorised absenteeism and it could also be seen as a positive opportunity to bring the workforce together. However, it is important that you plan ahead, cover any risk areas and communicate your policy clearly to all. Remember too, that not all staff will want to watch England’s matches, many will be interested in the fortunes of other Teams.

You may wish to consider the following:-

  • Asking staff for their views – do they want to watch certain matches at work?
  • Check when matches are on – are there any key matches which fall within the working day?
  • Do you intend to allow staff to watch on their computers? Is your internet sufficient to allow this? Will you place any time limits/bars on watching?
  • Will you have a central TV in a staff breakout area? Do you have the relevant licences to show matches publically? [In addition to a TV licence!]
  • Will you have the matches running all the time or switch it on at lunchtimes or key events?
  • How will you manage staff wanting or not wanting to watch? Will employees need the consent of their managers before they can leave their desks?
  • Will you adopt a first come, first watch approach or set a timetable as to when staff can watch (subject to work commitments)?
  • Will you set a limit on the number of matches/hours a person can watch?
  • Will you ask staff to make up the time if watching during working time?
  • What will you do if staff are abuse your trust?
  • Check your current policies on email and internet use – are they sufficient?

Boyes Turner’s Employment Team suggest…

Such global sporting events will undoubtedly mean that employers will have to balance the interests of some of its staff, whilst remembering that not all staff like football! Whilst employers do not want to dampen the ‘feel good factor’ which such events bring, they also have a duty to ensure fairness and consistency in their approach to such matters as holiday requests and managing sickness absence. It is important to set the tone now that the employer is excited about the event and use the event as a way to bring people together, but also point out that there are employment rules in place within the organization which will be adhered to.

For further information, please contact our Employment Team on 0118 952 7284 or submit an enquiry.

Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.

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