If you want to avoid a sudden rise in sick leave among staff over the next month you need to take some practical steps now…
The World Cup frenzy will be getting into full swing from this Friday, but a month of top-class international football can be a daunting prospect for many employers. Here we outline some practical steps on how to maintain employee attendance and productivity levels, as well as avoid sickies as staff get behind their national team.
Unsurprisingly, there is no statutory entitlement to take time off to watch football. Employers should check their annual leave policy and remind employees about the procedure for taking time off and the amount of notice required. They then need to decide how to deal with requests, e.g. whether it should be first come, first served.
If an employer’s policy is silent or non-existent, the Working Time Regulations 1998 kick in (pardon the pun). This means that an employee must give an employer advance notice equivalent to twice the number of days they wish to take off, e.g. an employee wishing to take a day off to watch a game, must give their employer two days’ notice.
An employer can refuse the request by giving the employee notice equivalent to the number of days’ leave requested - in this case one day.
Instead of allowing time off, an employer might agree a temporary flexible working practice, allowing an employee to work different hours or to make up missed hours on other days.
Moving rest breaks
The Working Time Regulations require employees to receive rest breaks (where their daily working time exceeds six hours) and adequate daily rest (11 hours in each 24 hour period). Employees can agree to forego their rest breaks or take them at the end of their working day so they can leave early to see a match.
The Regulations do not expressly forbid this, although the Department of Trade and Industry’s guidance frowns on breaks being taken at the end of the day/shift.
If there is a contractual right to sick pay and an employer refuses to make that payment, they may face breach of contract claims
Dealing with sickies
Statistics clearly show a sudden rise in sick leave around major sporting events. Should they be paid? The answer depends an employee’s contract of employment. If there is a contractual right to sick pay and an employer refuses to make that payment, they may face breach of contract claims. If there is no contractual scheme in place, an employee falls back on the Statutory Sick Pay Scheme – the first three days of which are unpaid.
So what happens if an employer thinks the sickness isn’t genuine or at least only a self-induced hangover? Employers face the tricky task of trying to assess the truth e.g. by arranging a return to work interview with the employee.
It’s more straightforward where an employee simply fails to turn up for work without making any contact. In this case, there may be grounds for treating the absence as a disciplinary issue. Employers would need to follow their disciplinary policy and comply with the ACAS Disciplinary Code.
Taking practical pre-emptive strikes to help avoid the situation can be as simple as an advance reminder to staff about following the correct procedure for notifying absence - and stressing that unauthorised absence will result in disciplinary action.
If appropriate, employers could allow some staff to work from home. This could be on a first come, first served basis but it can be difficult to monitor whether an employee is being productive or skiving. It may be simpler to adopt a blanket refusal on temporary homeworking.
Facilities at work
If you allow employees to watch matches at work, it can foster good industrial relations. However, add alcohol to the situation and it can pose health and safety risks, e.g. where employees operate machinery, supervise the health and safety of others or just have to drive. Employers should also note that they can be held vicariously liable for an employee’s conduct, if personal injury results.
In addition, the consumption of alcohol can increase tension and an employer risks damaging its reputation if customers are left dealing with inebriated staff.
Again, consider reminding employees of the company’s alcohol and drug policy e.g. alcohol during working time and the consequences of coming into work under the influence of alcohol.
Some businesses impose standards of appearance to promote a particular image or for health and safety reasons that should be upheld during the World Cup. If a relaxation of the dress code is being considered, give thought to the international make up of the staff in case racial tension or intimidation might ensue.
Many people remember the running battles in Marseilles during the 1998 World Cup. A national newspaper “named and shamed” certain hooligans, which in some cases resulted in their employers dismissing them for gross misconduct.
Employers should not assume that such acts will automatically justify summary dismissal. To dismiss fairly, an employer will still be required to carry out its own investigation (although an employee’s conviction can be taken into account) and will need to provide clear grounds for the negative impact on the employer’s business and/or the employee’s ability to undertake their role effectively.
Staff may seek to use their office computers to watch the games or track the score, which can have a negative impact on productivity. Having a clear policy in place dealing with internet usage can help spell out what is acceptable - and what is not.
Whatever your approach as an employer, ensure your staff know the rules of engagement well in advance of the World Cup kick-off on 11 June. Also be evenhanded and non-discriminatory in the way you apply any flexibility - it is not just the boys that want to watch!
Sharon Latham is a Partner at national law firm Clarke Willmott