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UK employment law considerations during EURO 2016

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UK employment law considerations during EURO 2016

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A major sporting event is not a new phenomenon. In recent years, we’ve had the Olympics, the World Cup and Wimbledon tournaments in which a British player actually has a shot at winning. As with any such event, planning ahead is a good idea and you may well have a plan based on what you did last time round. But don’t expect your staff to simply remember what to do – you need to make clear to your employees what your expectations are.

There may be some easy wins. For example, showing the first (weekday) England match on a screen in a central area at work and allowing staff to come and watch – which you can offset again the key things you want to guard against, such as workers using up precious bandwidth watching games from their individual workstations, or suddenly having no volunteers to work overtime. If conditions attach to certain privileges, such as employees needing to seek their manager’s permission to watch games during their normal working hours, that should be made clear.

You might create a policy for this purpose, but equally you could post an update on the intranet or send employees an email covering the most important points relevant to your business. Clear communication with your staff should go a long way towards avoiding misunderstandings, minimising the chances that you’ll need to take formal action to address misconduct. And if you do need to take disciplinary action at a later stage, you’re on much safer ground imposing sanctions if employees were told upfront what was and wasn’t acceptable.

Beware partisan policies that favour England or teams from Great Britain and Northern Ireland – you don’t want to encourage complaints of discrimination because of nationality. And make sure you treat employees sensibly and consistently, as there’s nothing like a feeling of unfairness to give rise to grievances.

Some of the specific issues to consider are as follows:


Tackling competing holiday requests and other working time issues

Some people may be lucky enough to have tickets to a match or may be requesting holiday to watch certain matches from home. If you can accommodate those requests, that’s great, but what if you are inundated? You can of course say no (provided you give sufficient notice) but how will you decide between competing requests – on a first come first served basis? If you already address this in your existing holiday policies, stick to those guidelines. Otherwise, be consistent in your approach to holiday requests and don’t prioritise football fans. Remember that you want to avoid making general rules which could have the effect of disadvantaging other categories of employees.

If you rely on overtime work, re-read what your standard employment contracts say about that in advance. If overtime is required for certain employees, you may want to remind them of this (as a group – don’t single out certain employees) and put down a marker that you will take non-attendance seriously. Is overtime voluntary? If so, and you think you might be short of volunteers, identify in advance what incentives you can put in place to ensure people are willing to fill any gaps. Will the shift end in time for half-time when you’ll make arrangements for workers to watch the rest of the match on the premises with their colleagues (perhaps even with a beer)?

As for increased Euro 2016 chatter, consider what your approach to this will be. Will you accept and encourage this as a form of team bonding? Or will you remind employees of critical targets that need to be met despite the excitement of the beautiful game, asking them to reserve the majority of their football enthusiasm for non-working time?

Sickness – learning to spot football fever

You might find that sickness levels mysteriously increase during Euro 2016 and you may not be willing to accept there’s been an epidemic of dodgy curries.

If you already have a culture of monitoring short-term sickness absences and asking employees to explain any sickness, for example in a return to work interview, you may experience less of an issue with this. If not, you may wish to notify employees in advance that you will be keeping an eye on sickness levels, particularly around key match dates and in respect of one-off absences. If you don’t have a short-term sickness absence policy, consider whether that is something worth having for the future, as it is generally useful for dealing with persistent short-term absence issues.

One employee’s ‘banter’ is another’s racial harassment

Apart from ensuring that your Euro 2016 plan is a level playing field and free from discrimination against other nationalities, you also need to be mindful of what your employees are doing and saying to each other at this time. Ensure you have a Dignity at Work policy or similar, which makes employees aware of their duties to treat their fellow workers with respect, explains what constitutes discrimination and outlines good practice. Depending on the workplace culture, it may be appropriate to remind employees that they should enjoy the tournament but any jokes should not be at the expense of others.

Dress to express…football allegiances

Depending on your workplace, it may be possible to allow some flexibility in terms of what workers can wear, whether football shirts or just dress-down during the tournament. This may be subject to certain conditions, for example only when employees do not have client-facing meetings. However, if you already have a particular dress code that’s supported by good business reasons – such as uniforms for retail staff, protective wear for those in roles covered by health and safety regulations or professional attire for client-facing roles – you may want to remind your staff of the rules.

If you are imposing new rules for the duration of the tournament, make sure there are business reasons and be careful these don’t discriminate, particularly on grounds of gender (either against women or men) or nationality. ‘Only England shirts allowed’ (or similar sentiments) is not a slogan for the 21st century – and it’s certainly not a good idea under the Equality Act 2010.

To bet or not to bet – and should the employer be the one answering that question?

What should you do about the inevitable workplace sweepstake? Lotteries and sweepstakes are regulated by the Gambling Act 2005 and the exemptions from its regulatory net are complex. Counter-intuitively, sweepstakes where the proceeds go directly to charity rather than to a particular ‘winner’ are more likely to be caught. Small scale sweepstakes between employees at one location should be fine but it is probably wise for an employer not to endorse these. If you become aware of any larger schemes, you should consider whether to permit these and may wish to take specialist legal advice.

In summary

To help with planning (and monitoring!), the initial group fixtures and match timings can be found here. In addition to the potential headaches, the event is also an opportunity to engender goodwill and bring staff together – a corporate bonding event planned by someone else. By setting down clear and fair rules and getting the tone of your communications with workers about this right, you could well benefit. So bring on Euro 2016, which can be fun without dropping the ball on productivity.

First published on Ius Laboris Global HR.

Read more about sporting events and German emloyment law in our article EURO 2016 and employment law in Germany.

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