BREAKING NEWS! World Cup fever is not an actual illness

Businessman with soccer ball

It is now only a matter of days until the World Cup begins!

I can’t profess to be a football pundit, but I do always enjoy the World Cup and I’m hopeful that this year England will at least make it out of the group stages!

You’re probably wondering why on earth an employment lawyer is blogging about the World Cup and how it has any bearing on employment matters. The answer is simple – employees want to watch it. They want to be at the pub with their friends cheering their team on. Some may even decide to go to Russia to soak up the atmosphere, or were lucky enough to get tickets. What this means for employers is the potential for absent or unfocused employees until at least 15 July 2018.

“Sorry boss, I’m really ill” *cough*

You may find that during World Cup season, you have an employee or two that coincidentally are struck down with a 24 hour illness on the days their team is playing. This may genuinely be a coincidence and I am not suggesting that everyone who is of is feigning symptoms in order to watch a match, but what can you do if they are?

Unless you operate a separate company sick pay scheme, the general Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) scheme does not kick in until the fourth day of absence so sporadic individual days would not be paid – a small silver lining on any suspicious absences. This doesn’t, however, address the issue of disruption in the department/business that is caused by such absences or deter an employee from continuing the pattern.

If, for example, an Icelandic employee has been off for each of the Iceland matches and you have a reasonable belief that this has been to watch the matches and not for genuine illness then you can address this with them. I wouldn’t suggest going in ‘all guns blazing’ but it can certainly be raised either in the return to work interview or in a separate meeting. If they’re aware you are onto what is happening it could be that simple as to nip it in the bud.

In ‘repeat offender’ cases and/or where an employee admits this is what has been happening you may decide to take it to a disciplinary for misconduct.

“Its ok, I’ll just watch it at my desk”

If your computer systems allow it, employees may try and watch the matches on their computer or if you have particularly tight restrictions in place, through their phone on their desk.

This could mean there at least 90 minutes where an employee is effectively being paid to watch the match and are not performing their duties. I don’t think I know of a company that would be particularly happy with this!

If it is the case that your computer systems are pretty lax, you could tighten them up so matches cannot be streamed and watched. Alternatively, if you have a ‘no phones at your desk/on the shop floor’ policy then it could emphasised so employees are reminded of it.

Whilst my first recommendation would be an informal ticking off, if you do find someone watching a match during their working hours then they you may be able to take disciplinary action.

Prevention is better than cure

I know that many employers recognise that their staff want to watch at least their country’s matches and have come across a number of different ways where this has been enabled without reducing productivity or causing any expenses or loss to the business. I have listed a few examples below:

  • Allow it to be played in the office/workplace over the radio;
  • Allow employees time off to go and watch the match on the basis that the time is worked back;
  • Show the match in a conference room/canteen so people can remain on site and make the time back.
  • Allow half day holidays or break holiday days into hours to accommodate an early dart;
  • Petition to have the World Cup a three week national holiday (ok, so this is unlikely but it was possibly my favourite suggestion by a colleague so I had to add it in!)

Obviously with allowing people to take time off, you would need to ensure that there are enough staff able to manage the workload during that time so operating a ‘first come first serve’ request basis may be a good idea.

If you have an attendance issue during the World Cup, or in general, get in touch!

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