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Have your staff got World Cup Fever?

It can’t have escaped anyone’s attention that the Rugby World Cup is upon us – even those not interested in the game itself must have seen images of England’s Owen Farrell’s...

It can’t have escaped anyone’s attention that the Rugby World Cup is upon us – even those not interested in the game itself must have seen images of England’s Owen Farrell’s response to the All Blacks’ Haka or Warren Gatland’s dejected face on Sunday when Wales lost in the final 5 minutes of their semi-final.

Events like this can create an exciting atmosphere at work and really can boost morale.  However, where games are played – and shown – during normal working hours, it’s important to be clear with staff about what is expected of them and to keep disruption to a minimum.  With most games being on weekends and due to the time difference, in the morning, unauthorised absence from work to watch the game hasn’t been an issue – but what about the Final this Saturday or the play off for Bronze on Friday morning?

Here’s a quick guide to employers suddenly faced with a rush of requests for time off this coming weekend – and dealing with the possible consequences of those celebrations…

Any concessions that employers offer in terms of flexibility, or time to watch the game whilst at work are non-contractual and totally within their control.  However, we would always advise that it might be easier to offer them than to try and manage people’s desire to watch, or even attend, a game.

Time off work – employees can request time off work as normal and should have applied well in advance of the day(s) requested, although you might want to consider late requests for days (and half days) off.  While employees are not automatically entitled to time off to watch World Cup games, you might want to temporarily relax rules on how many staff can be off at once, or using a rota or first-come, first-served system. Any requests, of course, need to be balanced against the needs of the business and be dealt with consistently and fairly (not all rugby supporters are English and male, and they should not be given preference).

Your handbooks should refer to how leave requests will be considered.  You don’t have to agree to time off if it’s going to leave you short of staff – but you might want to think creatively about how you can make the most of the opportunity to turn this national fever into something positive.

Flexibility in working time  – you could consider allowing flexibility in terms of start and finish times for this period, or extended lunchbreaks with the time being made up.  Be sure to be clear about how people take this time – booking it through their manager, for instance – you don’t suddenly want everyone to disappear with no idea where people have gone!

Unpaid leave, making time up later and requesting a shift swap with a colleague are also acceptable if you want to grant them.  None of these is a contractual right and you do not have to agree to them, but it might be better to do this than have to manage the consequences of unauthorised leave.

Facilities for watching the event at work – if you have many fans in the workplace, why not provide access to a television in a communal area, or designate a computer as the official place to watch the game?  This might well be preferable to people watching it ‘quietly’ whilst also trying to (pretend to) work – or on their mobile phones. Again, this is not a right.

Hopefully your staff will secure time off in advance, by discussion and agreement with you.

However, there may be undesirable outcomes of this World Cup Fever:

Unauthorised absence –  Any employee who is absent from work without permission and who does not subsequently provide medical evidence or some other acceptable explanation for his/her absence, (or was seen in the pub whilst off sick) can be subject to formal disciplinary action.  This would also apply to any employee who, following an authorised day’s holiday on the date of a special event, fails to turn up for work at the proper time the following day.  If you doubt that the reason for absence is genuine, you will need to investigate carefully and follow normal sickness absence rules and your disciplinary policy.   You might want to remind your rugby-supporting teams of your intention to do this before it happens – and try and work with people to minimise disruption: hopefully you can work out a positive way of addressing their needs!

Lateness – If an employee is late because he or she stayed up late to watch a match, you might choose to overlook the incident or give an informal warning, particularly if it’s a one-off.  This is how you should deal with any lateness, regardless of what reasons are offered – and if it happens again, or becomes regular, then your disciplinary policy will come into play.

Drinking or being under the influence of alcohol at work.  Be clear with your employees about the company’s policy on consuming alcohol and/or drugs, both at work and outside work if it means that they will still be intoxicated at work.  If an employee attends work under the influence of alcohol, or is unfit to work due to being hung-over, the employer should deal with the matter in line with its policy on alcohol use, and its disciplinary procedure.   Let people know before it happens that they are not allowed to bring in beer to watch the game from their desk (unless you are happy to let them, of course!)

Criminal conduct outside work.  So, your employee has gone to the world cup and gets involved in criminality whilst abroad – what can you do?  You have the right to take disciplinary action against the employee, even though the conduct will have occurred outside of work and in the employee’s own time. Contact us and ask for advice on this one before you take action!

Remember – not everyone likes rugby (really!), so you’ll need to think about how you don’t alienate those who really don’t want to cheer along with everyone else, and don’t offer concessions that are seen as unfair by others.  Once this is all over, you might want to have a policy in place for next time there’s a big sporting, or major, event.  If so, give HR Elite a call on 01206 700 690.