Home or away. What should employers be doing about the game?

Watching-sport-at-workThe Euros 2016 are underway. It’s an exciting time for the nation, but not so much for businesses that are potentially facing a largely absent workforce, be it physically or simply because they will spend at least 90 minutes of their afternoon glued to their mobile phones watching the match. Some employees might have been organised enough to book annual leave for the afternoon, but for many, they will be devising a cunning plan as to how they can get away to watch the match. Employers can expect to be faced with a hike in “sickies” and last minute requests to work from home as suddenly there’s a delivery due or a poorly child to look after. Some employees will just decide to chance it and not come back to the office after their lunch breaks, with no pre-authorisation at all. So what should you be doing as an employer?

ACAS promotes being flexible and having agreements in place – perhaps think about allowing people to start earlier or finish later, or allow shift swapping or making up the time on another day. This view is supported by TUC who suggest businesses should possibly arrange for staff to watch the games on company premises or allow them to work from home.

We are hearing from a number of clients that they are allowing their staff to watch games at work. They have embraced the opportunity to boost morale and gather their workforce in a room to support the nation. Some are even putting on soft drinks and nibbles and the staff are positively glowing about their employers being the “coolest in the World”. Arguably, a small sacrifice for such big praise.

Of course, there are always the dissenters. Those who say “I hate football, I prefer the Olympics”, or “I am into Wimbledon, so I’ll expect that to be televised at work” or the Ryder Cup or the Grand Prix. The list goes on – where does it end? Some say, it’s different with the Euros, as they’re once every four years unlike the other sporting events. Agreed, but then the World Cup is also once every four years (just a different four years), so effectively that’s a major football tournament once every two years.

Then there are those who will say – “I hate all sport but seeing as half of my colleagues are spending 90 minutes watching footie in the canteen, why should I be sat here working? I’m off shopping while the match is on – after all, the shops are likely to be pretty deserted so I can browse in peace!”

There’s also a more serious issue – we live in an age of Global workforces. We will have colleagues who are French, Polish, Welsh, Spanish etc. The chances are that they will be supporting their own countries, and although they are physically based in England, they’ll surely ask for time off to watch their countries play in the Euros… and why shouldn’t they be allowed to do this? Isn’t refusing this, basically discriminating against different nationalities?

The risks go on, so the best advice we can give is this:-

  1. Be clear and have a company party line on the matter. Circulate this to all. There is no need to have a detailed 10 page policy on the Euros – just a simple memo that goes around to the workforce that confirms the business stance on the football is fine.
  2. Apply the policy consistently and be very careful not to discriminate against different nationalities.
  3. Apply the policy equally amongst all types of workers – including night and shift workers.
  4. Set boundaries. Fundamentally employees are paid to work not watch sport. Ideally, they should be expected to make up the time which negates arguments from non-sport lovers, and also those who feel less fairly treated because they have had to work throughout the game.
  5. Make clear that any sudden illness tomorrow will be looked into carefully and fit notes may be requested even for short absences. This will be a good deterrent if nothing else. Anyone who is caught falsifying an illness will be subject to disciplinary action.
  6. For those allowed to work from home, let them know that you will be expecting the normal levels of output from them. Keep an eye on their productivity levels but perhaps allow them flexibility as to what time of day they are logged on. If they choose to rise early so that they have delivered their tasks for the day by midday, then fine.
  7. Reiterate that there will be zero tolerance on alcohol at work. Anyone caught under the influence of alcohol will be disciplined as at any other time. If you do have the right to carry out random alcohol testing, feel free to do so if you suspect that an employee might be under the influence at work.
  8. If you are allowing employees time out to watch the game, let them know that this is done in good faith and you expect the same courtesy. They should not abuse this by suddenly trying to stream every game on their iphones or on the internet. This can crash the business IT systems and website which could hugely impact profits. As such, there should be a clear policy on this, and the disciplinary consequences of any breach.

Remember that whilst you are not in any way obliged to allow employees to have the time out to watch the games, it might be more detrimental to have an outright ban. Where there is a will, there is a way, so perhaps have the wisdom to join in the fun but keep it within acceptable limits. At least showing the game at work means that after 90 minutes away from their desks, you would have the right to usher all staff back to their desks afterwards and expect them to get right back to work!

A kind of quid pro quo.

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Rai_A_350x234Anita Rai is an Employment Partner at Winckworth Sherwood

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