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Steps to avoid World Cup sickness absence

A survey conducted by gaming website Betfair showed that 68% of UK adults surveyed thought about World Cup sickness. Employers need to ensure that they tackle this issue head-on.

This article is practical advice on maintaining employee attendance and productivity levels, as well as avoiding “sickies” as staff get behind their national team.

With matches during the world cup often being a 4 o’clock kick-off, football fans will be clamouring to watch the important matches. Unsurprisingly, there is no statutory entitlement to take time off to watch football, so employers should check their annual leave policy and remind employees about the procedure for taking time off and the amount of notice required.

If an employer’s policy is silent or non-existent, employers must refer to the Working Time Regulations 1998. This means that an employee must give an employer advance notice equivalent to twice the number of days they wish to take off.

Instead of allowing time off, an employer might agree to a temporary flexible working practice, allowing an employee to work different hours or to make up missed hours on other days.

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 request (but not insist) to forego their rest breaks or take them at the end of their working day in order to enable them to 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.

Statistics clearly show a sudden rise in sick leave around major sporting events. Should they be paid? The answer depends on 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 is the result of a ‘world cup sickness’? Employers then face the tricky task of trying to assess the truth e.g. by arranging a return to work interview with the employee. Taking practical pre-emptive steps to help avoid the situation can include giving an advance reminder to staff about following the correct procedure for notifying absence – and stressing that unauthorised absence will result in disciplinary action.

Some employees may ask if they can work from home, although an employer can allow this, the reality is that 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.

If you allow employees to watch matches at work, it can foster good industrial relations. However, add alcohol to the situation and it increases the risk of inappropriate behaviour which could result in a claim against the employer by an upset or offended employee. Alcohol can also pose health and safety risks, e.g. where employees operate machinery, supervise the health and safety of others or have to drive a vehicle for work purposes. Again, consider reminding employees of the company’s alcohol and drug policy e.g. alcohol during working time and the consequences of coming to work under the influence of alcohol.

Staff may seek to use their office computers to watch the games or track the score, which can have a negative impact on productivity (and potentially the security of your IT systems). Having a clear policy in place on internet usage can help spell out what is acceptable – and what is not.

Whatever your approach as an employer, ensure that your staff know the rules of engagement well in advance of the World Cup. Also be even-handed and non-discriminatory in the way you apply any flexibility: It is not just the boys that want to watch!

For more information or further advice, please contact our Employment & HR team on 01332 340 211.

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