„Italians lose football matches as if they were wars and lose wars as if they were football matches.“
With this sentence, Winston Churchill summarised the intense emotion felt by Italians for football: like it or not, there are very few countries in which football takes on such a historic and passionate significance as in Italy.
So, given this relationship between Italians and football, it is clear that when major football events begin, many Italians try hard to organise their time according to the match programme (and, in most cases, not only for the matches featuring the Italian team).
This obviously has a direct impact on people’s work. In fact, employers have to face a myriad of situations which could lead to a lack in productivity: employees who watch matches during work hours, others who arrive late at work, those who “fall” sick the day of the match, others still who ask the employer for holiday or leave to watch matches and, should Italy prove successful, even employees who are absent from work the day after the victory celebration.
Ordinary working time
Under the Italian system, the employee must be at the employer’s full disposal during work hours for the performance of his/her job, meaning that the time cannot be used for other activities (such as watching football matches on television, social networking, using mobile phones and tablets or surfing the web). Therefore, any non-work related activity undertaken by employees during the working time could be considered as misconduct and could therefore lead to disciplinary action being taken against the employee.
National Collective Bargaining Agreements (NCBA) regulate overtime. Where no NCBA applies, overtime must be agreed between the parties, although overtime cannot exceed 250 hours per year. So, where no NCBAs apply and the employer requires employees to do overtime work during a football match, the employee can refuse to do so.
In any case, even without prior written agreement, overtime can be requested for specific reasons set out by the law and NCBAs, such as:
- Exceptional production requirements;
- Circumstances beyond the company’s control;
- Particular events (for example, exhibitions or demonstrations).
There are no specific provisions that regulate employees’ holiday and leave requests during sporting events. The law provides that the employee is entitled to an annual period of paid holiday which the employer must grant, taking into account the needs of the company and the interests of the employee. However, as the employer decides the employee’s holiday period, the employer can refuse the employee’s holiday request.
As a consequence, should the employee take holiday during sporting events without the employer’s prior consent for holiday,, this would count as misconduct and the employer could commence disciplinary action against the employee, which could also lead to the employee’s dismissal for cause.
Generally speaking, in addition to holiday, NCBAs provide for special leaves that can be used by employees on an hourly basis, subject to the employer’s prior consent. These hourly paid leaves could be a favourable option for the employee, as an alternative to the request for a full day of holiday in order to watch a football match.
In any case, the best option would be for companies to have agreements in place with employees, establishing a more flexible approach to enable employees to watch sporting events, while safeguarding both the employer’s interest to maintain normal levels of productivity and the employees’ interest to watch football matches (should requests for leave be submitted by a significant number of employees, a “first come first served” approach could be adopted).
Use of social networking sites and websites
The first and easiest way to avoid the use of websites by employees in the workplace during work hours is to block or limit access to websites that are entertainment-based or unrelated to work.
Nevertheless, sometimes this option is not a proper solution precisely because in the current digital era of the Internet, social networks, smartphones and tablets, it is very easy for employees to go online and watch matches while in the workplace through their own personal technical devices.
Such devices’ use in the workplace should be faced always bearing in mind that if the employee does not perform his/her work during work hours, he/she will be in breach of the employment contract and disciplinary action can be taken.
In any case, the best legal option for preventing incorrect use of such tools would be to adopt a specific policy regarding Internet use in the workplace; for example, by making what is and isn’t an acceptable use clear to employees.
Drinking or being under the influence at work
Under the Italian system, the rules on safety in the workplace strictly forbid giving alcohol to employees at the workplace.
In any case, it is common practice to have a drink or two while watching sporting events. However, coming to work under the influence of alcohol or being caught drinking during work hours may result in a disciplinary procedure, considering that, after having consumed alcohol, the employee may be incapable of working, may disturb the working environment and may give a negative impression to customers.
At any rate, even in this case it is strongly advisable to adopt a specific policy wherein it is clearly indicated that drinking or being under the influence at work is strictly forbidden and that breaches of such policy could be disciplined by the employer.
As said above, Euro 2016 could certainly represent a potential risk both for the employers, who may face a serious decrease in productivity, and for employees, who – swept up by their enthusiasm for football, but also (and perhaps above all) patriotism – may be subject to disciplinary action due to a breach of their contractual obligations.
It is therefore crucial to define clear rules (through specific agreements or policies) that must be followed during sporting events.
Below are some very basic suggestions for employers based on experience, which may be followed when managing these situations in order to strike a balance between the needs of the business and the interests of individuals wishing to partake in these events:
- First understand if the workforce is interested in the sporting event and evaluate the risk of disappointing the employees by ignoring their interest;
- Try to plan the work in accordance with the match programme: such as by not scheduling an important meeting during an important match;
- Strengthen team spirit: companies could consider showing the matches in the office, insofar as compatible with business needs;
- Increase flexibility in the management of work hours by, for example, offering employees the possibility of working from home. This could be a particularly suitable option for employers, especially at a time when Italy finds itself facing the “flexible working era”.
Having said all of the above, it should also be considered that there could be benefits to supporting sporting events in the workplace. Indeed, instead of being worried about employees missing work to watch matches or to recover from celebrations, companies should embrace Euro 2016 as an opportunity to engage and motivate employees, considering the cohesive benefits of coming together to enjoy a sporting spectacle, paired with the inevitable emotional investment in the event.
First published on Ius Laboris Global HR.