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On the ball: your business guide to the World Cup

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The World Cup is always a big event. Because it’s only every four years, both you and your employees will no doubt get very excited about the month-long tournament. But what should you do when your staff ask you if they can head off to the pub early to watch a match? Should you play good cop and let them go? 

A survey by law firm DLA Piper reveals that 51 per cent of business leaders and HR professionals plan to offer flexible working to staff who want to watch England, with many citing shift swapping (33 per cent), early finishes (59 per cent) and late starts (35 per cent) as part of their strategy. 

“Both employers and their staff need to look at celebrating the World Cup realistically,” says Mike Cherry, policy chairman of the FSB. “You need to start engaging with your staff to make sure you put plans in place to cater for those employees that want to watch the football, as well as those that don’t and might want to work overtime.”

Generally, the timings of the England matches lend themselves pretty well to UK working patterns, but as England progresses – fingers crossed! – working fans may get caught up in the festivities, and staff absence due to hangovers will follow.

“Sorting out these issues before the first game kicks off means everyone can relax and enjoy the matches, while making sure jobs still get done in the workplace.”

Here is a short summary of the FSB’s recommendations – you can download the full brief below.

  • You should agree with employees that they can take the relevant days or half-days off as part of their annual leave entitlement in the usual way
  • You could also grant employees special unpaid leave
  • Where possible, put in place a flexible working system on match days so that staff can watch the matches by, for example, granting a longer break or allowing them to come into work later or leave earlier to make the time up
  • Allow staff to listen to the radio or watch the TV at work – you could allow short breaks at regular intervals or you could have the radio or TV on in the background
  • Don’t forget that not everyone supports England and not all football fans are male – there are 32 teams participating in the 2010 FIFA World Cup and football has a strong female following
  • Put in place a requirement that employees who phone in sick on key match days (or post-match days) provide medical evidence of their sickness absence, for example, some proof that they visited their GP or a doctor’s certificate
  • Put in place a requirement that employees who are off sick during the World Cup period must notify their absence to a specified person – this will help make them aware that you’re closely monitoring sickness absence during this period

Setting a precedent

Despite firms’ positive approaches, bosses could be inadvertently creating an employee relations headache, DLA Piper warns, with only 19 per cent planning to offer flexible working patters for all matches, and 76 per cent planning to offer no flexibility at all to staff who don’t follow football. 

“A lot of UK businesses are seeing the World Cup as a bit of light relief after a tough couple of years, and are offering flexibility as a way of boosting employee relations,” says Tim Marshall, UK head of employment and a partner at DLA Piper.

He says that shift swapping and flexible hours are all great strategies, but business leaders need to consider the finer implications of their actions. “By failing to offer staff who follow teams other than England the same opportunities for flexible working, employers are potentially opening themselves up to allegations of discrimination.”

Additionally, Marshall warns that offering flexibility during the World Cup sets a precedent among staff. “Employers would be well advised to remember that many people are just as passionate about tennis or athletics as they are football. You need to consider if you’re willing and prepared to extend the same flexibility to staff for future events, or you could be setting yourself up for problems later.”

You can download the FSB’s full recommendations – plus England’s roadmap to victory, listing key dates, below.

Download the FSB's World Cup guidance here

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