Handling a summer of sport at work

Posted by Vicky Schollar on
The summer of sport continues with Wimbledon having started this week and the football World Cup in full swing. It could be exciting times for the public but employers may find themselves having to perform a balancing act, especially with the Wimbledon final men's final and the World Cup final on the same day – Sunday 15th July.

HR teams could be managing competing requests for time off or transfers to another shift, as well as a spike in unauthorised absences.

While employees are not automatically entitled to time off to watch Wimbledon, employers should try to agree requests for leave, perhaps by temporarily relaxing rules on how many staff can be off at once, or using a rota or first-come, first-served system. Any requests, of course, need to be balanced against the needs of the business.

To help prevent complaints of race and/or sex discrimination, employers should ensure that requests are dealt with consistently and fairly. There should be no favouritism given to any particular gender or nationality.

Given that the tennis will take place in the afternoon, evening and weekends, businesses could consider flexible working arrangements; for example, allowing employees to swap shifts, start work a little later or leave work early provided they make up any time lost, or by allowing unpaid leave.

Another option is to allow employees to listen to matches on the radio or online, or to let them watch on television or the internet during breaks, after work or in the background. However, employers need to make sure they have valid licences in place and that a risk assessment is carried out beforehand to identify any health and safety concerns. This would also be an ideal time to remind employees of the content of any social media policy in place.

The excitement of a match may also lead to unguarded comments about another player's nationality or characteristics, which may be offensive and/or lead to allegations of discrimination. Employers should remind employees of the relevant policies in place that relate to conduct within and outside the workplace, and of the potential consequences of failing to comply (for example, sporting privileges being withdrawn and/or disciplinary action being taken).

Consider whether drinking will be temporarily allowed in the workplace for games watched outside of normal working hours, or whether doing so may cause more problems than it's worth.

An employee who has been refused leave, or believes leave will not be granted, may not turn up for work, or may call in sick. Similarly, an employee granted leave may call in sick and seek to reclaim their holiday back to use at a later date. While the above circumstances may raise suspicions about the genuine nature of any sickness absence, employers should not automatically jump to conclusions and should carry out an investigation first. Conducting a return to work interview or a requirement to produce medical evidence if absent may act as a deterrent to those looking to abuse the system.

If an employee takes unauthorised absence or fails to comply with the an employer's policies and procedures then the business's normal disciplinary procedures should be considered.

The World Cup and Wimbledon are an ideal opportunity to bring staff together. To keep morale high and absence under control, employers should consider adopting a balanced, flexible and positive approach to requests for flexible working arrangements. This is also an ideal time to review and update (if necessary) any existing relevant policies and make sure staff are aware of them. Distributing a staff briefing on ‘Summer of Sport workplace guidance’ may help manage expectations on both sides.

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Vicky advises on a wide range of contentious and non-contentious employment issues, acting for both businesses and individuals.

Vicky Schollar
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