Euro 2016 & Rio Olympics: How to avoid an own goal and achieve gold at work!

Our television screens will soon be ablaze with some of the biggest events of the sporting calendar – the 2016 UEFA football European Championships (Euro 2016) in France begins this week, followed by the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio in August.

With all the excitement looming, and as far as Euro 2016 is concerned, some matches taking place during or close to many employees’ normal working hours, employers need to plan ahead to minimise potential disruption.

The basic legal position is that an employer is entitled to expect certain levels of capability and conduct. Unauthorised absence or poor performance can be dealt with via the disciplinary procedures if required – major sporting events are not an exception. Some employers, however, take a less legalistic view and to improve morale, believe that flexibility is worth its weight in gold.

Avoiding an own goal

It is likely that employers will receive an increased number of requests for time off work during or around match days and popular Olympic events. Worse still, increases in “sickness” absence on match days are likely as are absences the day after match days for employees nursing a hangover!

Employers should have a plan in place to ensure that they can deal with these issues in a way that does not disrupt their business, while at the same time seeking to avoid damage to workplace morale when football fever grips the nation (or some of it!).

We suggest the following tips that may assist employers in tackling their sporting summer HR issues:

  1. Deal fairly with competing requests for time off

While many requests will be for half a day only to watch a particular match, others will be for a few days for the employee to travel to France to support his or her team. It may not be possible to accommodate all requests but employers should deal with requests fairly and consistently. By setting out in advance how annual leave requests will be dealt with, employers can manage employees’ expectations. Where holiday requests cannot be granted, it may be possible to be flexible around working hours.

  1. Take steps to control sickness absence

Employees who know their employer will be monitoring sickness absence are less likely to “pull a sickie” to be able to watch a match (or recover from over-celebration – or commiseration – from the night before). Employers can help to control short-term sickness absence by making their sickness absence policy clear and addressing the situation if they suspect that an employee’s sickness is not genuine.

  1. Tune in

Screening key games at work (where operational requirements permit) may be a good opportunity to mitigate the possibility of unauthorised absences. It may also build rapport with employees and arguably boosts morale and productivity in the long run. Employees who take advantage of the opportunity to take a break from work and watch a match can be required to make up lost time.

  1. Take care to avoid discrimination

Employers need to ensure that no particular groups are disadvantaged during the European Championships. For example, requests for time off and flexibility around working hours by employees who are not following the tournament should also be considered fairly and consistently. In diverse workforces, employers should consider requests to show the games of other nations particularly where certain nationalities make up a large proportion of the workforce.

Employees who are foreign nationals may want to follow their own team and any flexibility afforded to England, Wales and Northern Ireland fans should also be extended to them. Any inter-country rivalry should not be allowed to spill over into harassment.

  1. Team talk

Once a strategy has been decided upon, it will be important that this is clearly communicated to all employees. Employees will also need to be reminded that unauthorised absences and abuse of the sickness policy will be treated in the usual way, namely, in accordance with the disciplinary procedure.

If you have any sporting event related employment queries then contact our Employment team.

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