World Cup

With May in the rear-view mirror, we welcome the return of our monthly Employment Law Update. Last month we looked at the Windrush Scandal and the outed Brexit whistleblower whilst last week’s case law update concerned disability discrimination and gross misconduct

This month we look at football, dress codes, sex discrimination, and modern slavery.

The Employment Law Antidote to World Cup Fever

Football is once again dominating our screens and thoughts. Gareth Southgate announced his England squad in May and World Cup fever is beginning to sweep the nation in anticipation of a slightly more entertaining brand of underachievement compared to previous tournaments.

For some companies, this fever might be literal as well as metaphorical. Every other summer absences for sudden summer flu, migraines and other such illnesses seem to coincide with when the football is on. In the unlikely event England reaches the final then fans will be following England until the middle of July.

The 2014 World Cup coincided with the launch of flexible working leading many to prophesize that employers would be short-staffed during the tournament. Such wide-scale hysteria did not happen but these tournaments can present a few headaches for employers.

As such here are the basic points to handling any World Cup-related employment law issues.

1 Special Policies and Arrangements

The World Cup is being hosted in Russia, meaning some games will take place in time zones between 1 and 10 hours ahead of UK time. This means that many games will be during working hours whether the business is 9-5, split-shift, evening shift or night shift.

Temporarily allowing staff to listen to the radio or having communal television access to the games might reduce the risk of unauthorised absence and also increase staff morale. Another option is allowing staff to use personal devices to check scores, stream the game or listen online.

Alternatively, employers could allow temporary/one-off working arrangements that mean reduced hours on game days are agreed on the proviso the employee makes up the time later on. For example, an early finish on the day of a late-afternoon kick off could be made up with an early start the next day. Likewise, an extended break for a lunchtime kick-off could be made up later that shift.

2 Annual Leave Requests

Some fans will try and take games off as annual leave, which is fine. However, it is crucial to ensure there isn’t a staff shortage. Like regular holiday requests, first come, first served is a safe option and anyone who puts in a request too close to game days when others are already off is in exactly the same position as someone who applies late during any other popular holiday period.

3 Discrimination

Unlike the Euros, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland didn’t qualify, along with Scotland too. However, many workforces will still have employees supporting teams other than England at the tournament. Depending on the industry you are in and the location of your business staff might be supporting Portugal, Poland, Spain, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Australia or any of the other participants.

Therefore, to avoid discrimination issues it is important to treat staff supporting teams other than England in the same way as England fans. This applies to issues mentioned in points 1 & 2 so if your workforce contains staff following other nations then note their games and offer the same annual leave or special work arrangements to them.

4 Harassment

To put it lightly, England fans have a confrontational reputation. In March fans caused a stir for throwing bikes in the Amsterdam canals during a friendly with Holland. In Euro 2016 there were violent clashes with Russian fans in France.

Whilst we hope staff will not turn up with sharpened 50ps to throw at colleagues supporting an opposing team, there is a real risk of conduct that amounts to harassment – 12 German Bombers/My Grandad Killed Your Grandad chants being the classic example. Any such conduct can and should be treated as a disciplinary offence.

5 Unauthorised Absence

The staff whose leave applications were rejected might suddenly come down with World Cup fever on the day of games. The same applies to the day after late night games. Pulling a sickie is misconduct and can be grounds for disciplinary proceedings that may result in dismissal.

6 Computer, internet and mobile phone use

Some employers might not want to adopt special arrangements and some will not be able to for operational and health and safety reasons. That is fine. However, some staff might try and sneak a look at the scores. Like any other unauthorised use of internet, computers or mobile phones, this is misconduct.

In summary, employers should adopt a stance to the World Cup and let employees know in advance what that stance is. This should outline any special arrangement and remind them of the repercussions of any misconduct arising out of World Cup-related incidents.

If any such incidents arise the employee can be dealt with in accordance with company procedure and this will not be unfair. Provided this approach is taken to all staff regardless of national allegiance then there is very little World Cup risk for employers.