Employers: Find out your workers' World Cup rights

The World Cup is likely to be disruptive to the working day in many firms. Law firm Olswang offers advice to employers

Few of us will be unaware that the football World Cup kicks off on Friday 31 May. The initial group stage continues until Friday 14 June, with the knock-out stages (not wishing to tempt fate!) starting on Saturday 15 June and culminating in the final on Sunday 30 June. It goes without saying that the World Cup is likely to be a significant distraction to many employees and has the potential to cause headaches for employers. In recent research, a third of the employees surveyed admitted that they will be distracted by matches and over half said that they would find it very stressful to work if England advance to the latter stages of the tournament.

However, if handled correctly, the World Cup need not lead to an increase in absenteeism and a fall in productivity. It could in fact be used as a chance to boost morale following what for may employers has been a difficult year.

The biggest concern for employers is likely to be the matches scheduled during the working week. During the group stage alone, there are 33 matches (almost 50 hours of football) scheduled to be held on working days. Up to 7 million employees may be off work during the World Cup, with 1 in 10 admitting that they would "take a sickie" to watch a match and 1 in 6 saying that they would take authorised time off work. Half of those surveyed said that they were likely to have an alcoholic drink whilst watching a match, which, when combined with the fact that following the recent High Court decision pubs will open early, could lead to performance and conduct issues for employers.

Rules of the Game

Before considering the impact that the World Cup may have, it is important to remind ourselves of the relevant legal issues:

  • Under the Working Time Regulations 1998, employees have the right to take up to four weeks paid holiday. Employees may also be entitled to additional holiday - under their contract of employment. The contract may also set out the way in which holiday is taken.
  • Employers have the right to refuse an employee's request for holiday provided they follow the statutory counter-notice procedure.
  • If employees are off sick, providing they comply with the relevant notification requirements, they will be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (providing that the employee has been off sick for at least four days) and additional contractual sick pay set out in their employment contract/staff manual.
  • If an employee is off sick, they may "self-certificate" for up to 7 days (in other words they are not obliged to supply their employer with a doctor's certificate until the eighth day of their absence due to illness).
  • Any disciplinary procedures applicable to employees.

Recommendations to avoid the "off work" trap

We recommend that a combination of tackling the issue early and working with employees will be crucial in minimising the impact that the World Cup may have on levels of absence and productivity. Employers can of course insist on all employees working normal hours, with disciplinary sanctions if they do not, but this may lead to truancy and/or lower staff morale.

You may therefore like to consider some or all of the following:

  • Remind employees that as the World Cup is not far away any requests for holiday during the tournament should be made as soon as possible. If applicable, you should make clear the basis upon which requests will be granted, e.g. in accordance with the normal holiday procedure, or first come first served.
  • Make sure that you know when matches, especially popular ones, are being played. For more information go to: www.thefa.com/worldcup or www.fifaworldcup.com
  • Be firm but flexible - perhaps tell employees that you are happy for them to work "flexible hours" (i.e. starting earlier or later than normal) to enable them to watch their home country's matches and certain other key matches but that any "working" time which is taken up in doing so should be made up that day/week. You should also make it clear that any unauthorised absence or inability to work because of excess alcohol will, as usual, not be tolerated and, if appropriate, will be dealt with under the usual disciplinary procedures.
  • Consider screening popular matches (e.g. those involving England) at the work place - this should minimise disruption and avoid employees being attracted to the nearest "big screen" pub.
  • For those games kicking off at 12.30BST, suggest that employees may take a "long lunch" (with working time being made up as appropriate), although remind them that soft drinks will be a more appropriate form of refreshment and/or remind them of any policy dealing with the consumption of alcohol during working hours.
  • When games are over employees are still likely to be distracted and so you may consider a short "cooling off" period to allow employees to wind down and discuss the game.

Contact any member of the Olswang Employment Team for further information.

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