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World Cup 2018: Seven points for employers

With the World Cup just around the corner, Head of our Employment Department, Jonathan Dale, recommends that employers check their holiday and flexible working policies, in anticipation of requests from staff to take time off to watch – or even attend – matches.

Jonathan has provided a useful seven-point plan to help employers ensure they don’t get caught out by a flurry of last minute holiday requests – or even face claims of discrimination from disgruntled employees:

1. Holiday Requests

It’s important to ensure that you are up to speed with the legal rules about holidays. The bottom line is that workers are entitled to 28 days’ paid holiday each year (or a pro-rata proportion if they are casual or part-time workers) and entitlement starts from day one of their employment. Remember that some employees may be able to carry holiday forward from previous years, including workers who are sick while on holiday. So, some employees may be entitled to more than 28 days in a particular year.

Contracts and policies

Your employees’ contracts or your policies may limit when employees can take holiday; this is allowed, provided it doesn’t stop employees from taking their full 28 days by the end of the holiday year. For example, you may be able to insist workers take part of their holiday on bank holidays and/or during an annual summer close-down. You may also be able to prevent workers from taking holiday during peak holiday periods – perhaps when England are playing a World Cup game, or when the company would otherwise be short-staffed. This is valid provided there are proper, objective grounds for the rules. Some employers also set limits on how long each holiday can be i.e. that no holiday can last more than a fortnight.

Contracts or policies may also set out how much notice employees must give you of their holiday plans. If not, the notice an employee gives has to be twice as long as the holiday they are asking for, so two days’ holiday requires four days’ notice.

Refusals may offend

If you refuse proposed holiday dates then you must do so in writing and the length of notice of the refusal must be at least as long as the holiday requested – for example, at least two weeks before the worker’s holiday is due to start if refusing a two-week holiday.

It would be wise to have a system in place for determining priority if there are holiday clashes or if you would otherwise be left short-staffed. This needs to be fair and non-discriminatory, which could be as simple as ‘first come, first served’. Favouring employees with longer service could discriminate against younger employees who have not had the time to build up service and may also be sex discrimination because (on average) women have shorter periods of service than men.

2. Flexible Working Arrangements

As an alternative to holidays that are taken during the World Cup, you might consider showing flexibility in the shape of shift swops, moving lunch breaks, changing the start or finish times of the day, permitting the employee to make the time up on a different day or allowing working from home. Before any such flexible working arrangement is agreed, careful consideration must be given as to whether the business can reasonably function with the changes. If it can’t, issues will arise from those employees left to cope with the changes.

It is important to be consistent in your approach. How have earlier requests for flexible working been treated? Previous requests may have been made for childcare reasons or for other family matters, but you should consider whether they were treated differently. Otherwise, there is potential for sex discrimination claims if there is a difference in gender of those making requests and an inconsistent or different response being given.

3. “Sickies”

You should warn your employees well in advance that taking “sickies” will not be tolerated. It would be wise to have a self-certification form for absences of less than seven days, as part of your absence policy. If you don’t currently have such a policy, it would be sensible to introduce one quickly. The forms should set out a statement which the employee has to sign confirming the genuine reason(s) for their sickness. The form should also make it clear that providing false information could lead to disciplinary action.

Be clear to your staff that any sick leave taken dishonestly is a matter which may lead to disciplinary action. The key, however, is a thorough investigation by you rather than acting upon mere suspicion. Being seen in the pub watching the match is one thing but other absences may be more difficult to prove.

4. Give in to it

To avoid the headache of low attendance at work and the issue of a flood of holiday requests, you may wish to enable staff to watch or listen to the matches at work. Doing so may well boost morale and team spirit within the workplace and improve productivity in the longer term.

There is, however, potential for conflict with:

  • 1. employees being distracted;
  • 2. low productivity before and after the matches;
  • 3. high morale following any team wins and low moral should a favourite team lose;
  • 4. resentment building among non football-loving employees who are continuing to work while others are watching the game.

It would be unwise to allow consumption of alcohol during the matches watched in the workplace and this must be made clear to the employees taking up the offer.

5. Updates

If employees cannot be away from work watching the matches in full, it is certain they will want to keep updated on the action and scores. Updates via internet or mobile phones are common place and it is therefore essential that you make it clear to your employees of the IT/communication policies in place. It should also be made clear that unauthorised or excessive use of the company internet is prohibited. Similarly, employees should be reminded that distraction by way of internet or mobile phone updates may result in disciplinary action.

6. Banter in the workplace

Employers should braces themselves that in the excitement of the World Cup adrenalin may well kick in and, when mixed with nationality based loyalties, good humoured (or not so good humoured) banter may arise.

You are liable for the unlawful conduct of your employees and, what may be considered as friendly banter or jolly rivalry by some, may be viewed as bullying or discrimination by others. It must be clear to employees that such behaviour is unacceptable.

The typical workplace in the UK in 2018 is diverse both culturally and through nationality and this must be taken into account.

7. England Games

Workforces are diverse and you should be aware that all the steps mentioned above should not be restricted purely to England games. If applications for flexible working or holidays for other country’s games are refused, this could amount to race discrimination.

Comment

Whether World Cup fever has a significant impact upon your workplace or not, so long as you’re consistent, even handed and non-discriminatory in your approach, you should avoid unnecessary conflict and disruption.

If you would like to review your existing policies, or require further help and advice on the points above or any other employment issues, please get in touch with Jonathan directly by emailing jonathan.dale@andrewjackson.co.uk or speak to the team today by calling 01482 325242.

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