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How to avoid a World Cup workplace own goal

With the 2018 World Cup kicking off in Moscow, employment law specialists are urging businesses not to take their eyes off the ball in the workplace.

Julia Fitzsimmons of FBC Manby Bowdler, and John Mehtam from Martin-Kaye Solicitors in Telford, have been discussing some of the issues created by the world’s biggest football competition.

The advice is that companies must tackle the tournament challenge head-on, with the potential of lost working hours due to employees staying home to watch the games and disagreements in the workplace over competing team interests. 

With England taking on Tunisia in its first game on Monday, now is the time for companies to remind staff of their company’s attitudes towards absenteeism.

Julia explained: “The best approach is to put guidelines in place now, before kick-off, and if there are any gaps in advice, make sure you get them covered. There also should be procedures in place regarding alcohol consumption or watching games during working hours.

“Staff should also be reminded of the importance of staying within the boundaries for any workplace discussions. Major sporting events like the World Cup build a competitive atmosphere and when this spills over into the workplace it may inflame existing tensions, and that can spell difficulty for employers.

“With today’s multi-cultural workplaces there is more chance that ill-considered comments fuelled by nationality or race may give rise to offence, and the employer could find themselves liable for the actions of their employees and face claims for discrimination.”

Policies should cover equal opportunities and non-harassment with clear disciplinary procedures for anyone who shows inappropriate behaviour with colleagues on grounds of nationality, colour or race. 

Sickness absence procedures should be up-to-date so that everyone knows the formal process to be followed and what will happen if there is an unauthorised absence. 

Once the tournament is under way, if it’s thought that any employee has taken time off to see a match, it’s worth making sure that back-to-work interviews are undertaken and the reason for absence investigated, added Julia.

“There may have been a legitimate reason, but showing that any absence will be checked shows the focus is on and may help to see off subsequent absences among the workforce.

“Similarly, attitudes towards alcohol consumption and use of internet during working hours for personal use should be addressed in the company handbook. If you haven’t drawn up policies for any of these areas, then now is the time to do so and you should check that existing policies are still fit for purpose. Technology is developing quickly, and most people now have smartphones they can use to watch games.

“If previously you’ve only considered the use of company equipment in your internet policy, now is the time to tackle what happens if someone is making personal use of the internet during working hours on their own equipment.”

Failing to get workplace policies in order could see companies scoring an own goal, according to John Mehtam.

“According to the British Retail Consortium, the arrival of a World Cup can generate up to £1.25 billion in extra spending across the retail sector in Britain. But away from the High Street, it can also have a damaging impact on company productivity as staff seek to book extra holiday, or call in sick, so they can watch the big games – or recover from a late night of celebrations.”

Mr Mehtam said the time difference meant that many of the matches would be kicking off in the working day.

“This could be a real issue for many businesses, and with England’s group matches in the evenings and at weekends, shift workers could be affected too, so it’s important for managers to make sure they have rigorous policies in place, and that they are communicated clearly to all staff.

“Flexibility on the part of both employers, and their employees is key to maintaining a productive business, and a happy, motivated workforce. To achieve this, it is important for Shropshire managers to have agreements in place regarding issues like time off, sickness absence, or even time spent watching TV and monitoring social media.

“A more flexible approach is not always possible for some businesses – if England do well, momentum for merchandise will undoubtedly build in the shops and pubs, and employers will need all the staff they can muster. In these instances, it is vital that all requests for time off are dealt with fairly, and consistently.

“It’s also important to remember that not everyone likes football – there could be resentment from non-fans if they feel staff are being given special treatment which is not afforded to workers during other sporting events.”

Mr Mehtam said employers needed to make the right decisions for their own individual business.

“Being flexible will help to motivate and engage workers, but you still need to keep your customers happy. The vast majority of workers will understand this, but they must also be reminded that any unauthorised absence, suspicious working patterns, or evidence of turning up worse for wear after the previous evening’s excesses, could result in more than just a yellow card. It could lead to formal disciplinary proceedings.”

http://www.njwealthplanning.co.uk

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