Tuesday 1 June 2010

World cup fever could be an illness too far for region's employers

One of the region’s leading employment lawyers has set down some advice for employers on the eve of the World Cup.

Damian Kelly, a partner in Higgs & Sons’ employment department says that while most employers in the region will watch the World Cup themselves, some have given little or no thought on how to handle their employees during the tournament.

“Some employers will screen key matches at the workplace but this may not be possible for some businesses, even if they have the facilities. If employers can’t apply this consistently for all employees company-wide they could be exposing themselves to complaints and problems from those that are excluded.”

Alternatives for employers to consider include:

· Allowing employees to listen on the radio or via their computer – no licence required
· Where flexible working is in place, some employees may be able to work around the matches that they want to watch and make up lost time
· Employers may consider introducing flexible working for the duration of the World Cup or for key matches

Sickness Absence or Football Injuries

All employees should be required to report any absence to a trained and specified central person during the World Cup.

Damian said: “It’s vital that employers monitor absence closely during this period. The person to whom employees are required to report can ask more probing and appropriate questions when speaking to employees about their absence and can identify absence patterns on match days. This approach, coupled with advance warning to employees that unauthorised absences without a good reason and sickness absences that are not genuine will be dealt with under the disciplinary procedure, should help to discourage absenteeism during the World Cup period.”

If employees are absent during the World Cup employers should investigate further and question the employee when he or she initially reports the absence and conduct a return-to-work interview.

Damian said: “If you have a reasonable belief that the absence is not genuine, based on your investigations - perhaps because the employee has given evasive or inconsistent answers - you may take the matter further. Where there is evidence that the employee was not sick, for example he or she was seen in the pub watching a match, this will clearly be a disciplinary matter.”

Damian has produced a handy five point plan for employers in the region:

1. Before the tournament starts, remind employees that if they want to take time off work, they must make holiday requests in the usual way, and that it may not be possible to accommodate all requests, but explain the basis on which requests will be granted e.g. on a first come first served basis.

2. Remember to treat all employees equally regardless of nationality. If you allow England supporters time off to watch an England game, you should do the same for non-English nationals who want to watch their national team play. A failure to do this could lead to a discrimination claim.

3. Explain that standard levels of attendance and performance are expected throughout the World Cup.

4. Remind employees of your alcohol policy and re-enforce that any breach will result in disciplinary action.

5. Likewise remind employees of your Equal Opportunities Policy and any Non-Harassment/Bullying Policy and make it clear that offensive behaviour towards employees of other nationalities is unacceptable and will be dealt with under your disciplinary policy.

For one-to-one advice from Damian or a member of the Higgs & Sons’ employment team call 0845 111 5050.

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