Employment e-Brief – World Cup fever

Friday 6th June 2014

On Thursday 12 June, the World Cup begins in Brazil.

This will create an employment dilemma in a lot of workplaces because:

  • no matter how much employees might wish it were true, there is no statutory right for annual leave to watch the World Cup; and
  • no matter how much employers might wish it were not true, sickness absence increases during a World Cup.

So the question is – what should employers do if they do not want to damage staff morale but equally do not want to damage their businesses?

There are typically two reasons for the increased sickness absence. The first is employees calling in sick to watch a match (non-genuine sickness) and the second is employees being too hung-over after a match to attend work (genuine sickness which could and should have been avoided).

Employers can deal with both scenarios in a pro-active and re-active manner.


Remind employees of the standard required

We suggest that a memo or email is sent to all employees before next Thursday setting out the employer’s expectations during the World Cup period. The memo could:

  • Remind employees of the Sickness Absence Policy, Disciplinary Policy, Drugs and Alcohol Policy and Equal Opportunities Policy.
  • Notify employees that levels of work attendance will be subject to monitoring and sickness absence will be investigated if it coincides with a football match.
  • Remind employees that they must control their behaviour to ensure they can still attend work and complete their duties.
  • Remind employees that they must not turn up for work under the influence of alcohol.
  • Highlight any flexible arrangements being offered by the employer (see below).

Be flexible where possible

A couple of options to discourage “sickies” is allowing employees to watch matches at work or being more flexible with holiday applications.

In relation to watching matches at work, (assuming the employer is licenced to show the match) it is important to remind employees in advance of any match that whilst good humoured banter about teams is acceptable, language or behaviour which may be seen as discriminatory is not acceptable and the normal disciplinary rules apply.

If too many employees want to watch a particular match, then permission to watch it should be granted on a first come, first served basis or a rota basis.

Careful consideration should be given if an employer is thinking of allowing alcohol to be consumed by employees while watching the match. Matters to consider include: the limit on the amount of alcohol consumed, whether it should only be consumed in the room/area where the match is being watched and whether any consumption should be allowed if the employee is returning to work after the match.

In relation to holiday applications, if there are too many requests for leave, then leave should be granted on a first come, first served basis or a rota basis. When granting leave, employers should not give preference to men or to supporters of a particular team as that may lead to allegations of discrimination.

If employees do not have enough holiday, then consideration could be given to granting unpaid leave or requiring the employee to make up the hours.


Enforce the expected standard of behaviour

If employees turn up for work under the influence of alcohol, the normal disciplinary rules apply.

If an employee calls in sick on the day of or the morning after a particular team’s matches, then a pattern emerges which the employee may find difficult to explain. Of course, employees are rarely so obvious and in reality it can be difficult to prove either a hang-over or malingering. The typical situation occurs when an employee has applied for and been refused leave on a certain day and then calls in sick on that day. Even though the employer is likely to have a suspicion that the sickness absence is not genuine, it should not jump to conclusions. There should be a proper investigation and if any employee is found to have been malingering, the normal disciplinary rules apply.

To discuss this e-Brief in more detail, or if you require any assistance in drafting a memo to your staff, please contact a member of the Employment team.