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18th November, 2022 by Simon deMaid
After four long years of waiting, the FIFA World Cup is finally here! Following England’s impressive run in the Euros last summer, are you optimistic for another impressive display from Gareth Southgate’s men?
By this time next week, 20 games will have been played already, but with the FIFA World Cup being held in Qatar, there will be a wide range of kick off times (in the UK, it can range from 10:00am to 7:00pm), which has the potential to impact on workplaces around the country.
Many employers will have historically experienced cases of staff unexpectedly being struck down with a mystery illness during or following a big sporting event – arriving late or hung-over to work (or not arriving at all!) after a day and night of celebrating their team's win – but it is well worth starting to think about all the potential issues and putting a preventative plan in place to help ensure a happy workplace for everyone during the tournament.
We’ve therefore pulled together a number of steps employers can take:
Consider allowing employees to take unpaid time off work to watch matches or consider requests for short periods of annual leave. Employers should ensure employees are informed in advance whether requests for leave will be unpaid or part of their annual leave and how requests will be considered, for example on a first come first served basis. Requests should be treated consistently.
Let employees know that if time off or holiday requests are refused and they subsequently fail to attend work, this will be treated as an unauthorised absence for which they may be disciplined (unless they can demonstrate it was for another reason e.g. genuine sickness).
If employers operate a shift system, introducing a shift swap scheme enables employees to arrange their shifts around the matches they are interested in, provided appropriate levels of cover can be maintained (and subject to the Working Time Regulations 1998). For example, if employees are scheduled to work on a particular day, they might want to swap that day with a colleague so that they can watch the games that involve their teams.
This could allow employees to alter their hours to accommodate match times – for example, extended or early lunch breaks; starting work later; or finishing work early. Make sure that core business hours are covered, and employees are aware that they will need to make up the time another day.
With the rise of hybrid working and home working, it is likely that many employers will see an increase in the number of their workforce who opt to work from home on days when their country’s matches are scheduled.
If this is something the business is comfortable with, that’s great! However, employers may want to consider what the impact on their operations will be if the majority of their employees work from home! Do you actually need any of your employees to come in to work?
If employees are working from home, let them know that whilst they may choose to work from home, they must still work their normal hours and try to fit in watching the match around lunch breaks (for example, by taking an earlier or later lunch break).
Some employers may see the FIFA World Cup as an opportunity for team-building and choose to screen matches on-site – for example, the England v Iran match, which kicks off at 1:00pm on Monday, 21 November. However, be aware that non-football fans who choose not to watch (and are left to staff the office) may not be so happy about such an arrangement!
Furthermore, employers need to be aware that in a diverse workforce (and with two of the home nations involved in the tournament) not everyone will be interested in the same matches, so they may have requests to screen other matches.
Also, with such a large number of teams involved, expect a bit of friendly banter at work – whilst friendly rivalries are par for the course in the game of football, be warned that some colleagues may take it too far (especially if alcohol is involved!). At its worst, and although rare, this can lead to grievances or discrimination claims. Perhaps with England and Wales being in the same group, and with huge amounts of negative press around anti-LGBTQ issues, there may even be an increased likelihood of offence being caused within the workplace during this particular tournament?
As an alternative, employers could put in place facilities that enable employees to listen to (or watch) games online on work or personal devices. Employers should anticipate an increase in the use of social media sites, or an increase in website usage, during the FIFA World Cup. Employees should be reminded of any policies or procedures dealing with web use in the workplace and it should be made clear what is or isn’t acceptable.
Remember, if you are planning on screening any matches live during the FIFA World Cup (or listening to the commentary on the radio), you may need to check you have the correct TV Licence or PRS Licence in place. Sorry for ruining the fun!
The key to successfully managing employees during the FIFA World Cup is to ensure that whatever measures an employer decides to implement, these are clearly communicated to all staff. It is also advisable to remind employees that turning up to work drunk, or so hung-over they are incapable of carrying out their duties, will be considered a disciplinary offence and that levels of sickness absence will be closely monitored for the duration of the FIFA World Cup.
Ultimately employees have no 'legal right' to take time off work to watch football matches and it is for the employer to decide how flexible they want to be.
Football is an inclusive game, so this is a great opportunity for everyone (including ‘non-football fans’) to get behind their country (or adopted country) during the competition – encouraging staff to enjoy the spectacle of the FIFA World Cup will hopefully help boost morale. If it’s not too late, why not introduce a sweepstake for a bit of fun at work?
And who knows, football might actually be coming home this Christmas!
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