Back arrowButton/calendaricon/lockicon/sponsor
Open search
Close search
Call us on0808 168 5874


A summer of sport lies ahead! This year’s sporting calendar features three big events: the UEFA Euro 2024 football championship (14 June to 14 July); the Olympics (26 July to 11 August); and the Paralympics (28 August to 8 September). Those are in addition to two cricket T20 World Cups, plus the usual annual sporting events like Wimbledon tennis and the Tour de France. 

These events may be met with mixed enthusiasm within your workforce. On the one hand, staff members who are keen sports fans may want to soak up as much of these sporting occasions as they possibly can. Others may enjoy dipping their toe in, and some may not want to watch any sport at all. Wherever enthusiasm levels fall within your organisation, there is no denying the significant opportunity national sports events like the Euros, Olympics and Paralympics present for boosting staff morale, nor the possibility of them presenting the odd workplace headache.  

Below, we offer some tips for managing potential HR issues during the forthcoming sporting season.  

Be clear about your game plan  
As the Euros will be hosted in Germany, and the Olympics and Paralympics will take place in France, there will only be a short time difference between these host countries and the UK. (For a list of the Euro matches, see the UEFA Euro website. The Olympic and Paralympic schedules can be found on the Olympics website and on the Paralympics website.) As some of the Euro games will kick off at 2pm and 5pm UK time, you may find that some employees are keen to take time off to watch their national teams play. Similarly, during the Olympics, the gold medal sessions are likely to be popular (find out about the schedule here) and those will take place at various points throughout the standard working day. It is therefore reasonable to anticipate an increase in holiday requests for days or shifts which are affected by important matches or events. 

It is important to communicate your intentions and expectations to staff clearly in relation to these forthcoming sports events, so that everyone knows in advance the rules you will apply. For example, will you make temporary changes to your leave policy to allow staff to enjoy these sports fixtures (such as allowing half days off if you don’t usually, or reducing the amount of notice employees are required to give to request holiday)? Or will you expect business as usual?   

Depending on your business needs, you might want to consider placing a limit on the number of employees who will be allowed to take leave at any one time, to ensure that your operations are not disrupted. If you do decide to limit leave approval, be clear in advance how any new requests will be prioritised. Will you deal with requests on a first-come, first-served basis, or could you facilitate a lottery process for available leave? Keep in mind of course that not all leave requests will be to watch sport, particularly as so many of the summer’s sporting events also coincide with the school holiday period.  

As a general rule, engaging employees in advance to agree any changes to your normal policies, either through staff forums or via trade union representatives, tends to help manage expectations. Hopefully this will help to avoid misunderstandings and ensure that any HR-related issues that may arise once these major sporting events are underway are dealt with fairly and consistently.  

Consider offering flexibility 
If it is feasible for you to offer flexibility to staff around key sporting events, that is likely to be appreciated and could be an “easy win” if you are looking to improve staff morale. Can you facilitate temporary flexible working arrangements and allow employees to swap shifts with others, or alter their start/finish times, so they can watch key events or matches? Could employees make up time later, if you allow them to watch a key game or event during a shift? The practical implications of offering flexibility are likely to vary from one business to the next, but agreeing your game plan ahead of time should help to minimise the likelihood of issues arising once the matches (or other sporting events) kick off. 

Keep your eye on the ball  
It is worth considering in advance whether you will allow employees to watch games while they are at work. Temporarily setting up a communal television might reduce the risk of unauthorised absence and boost employee interaction and staff morale, particularly given that some of the Euro games will start at 5pm. If you do decide to make big screen facilities available for staff to watch games in the workplace, remember you must ensure that you have the appropriate broadcasting licence and rights for public entertainment. 

Another option is to allow staff to use their work or personal devices to check scores, live stream the game or listen online. What do your IT and social media policies currently say about employees’ access to the internet and social media, and the personal use of company equipment? An increase in social media usage is likely during these major sporting events, so it is sensible to remind staff of any social media policies you have in place. 

You should make clear whether employees will be allowed to watch games during working time. Will you restrict access to break times, or are you happy to operate a ‘reasonable watch’ policy whereby employees will be allowed to watch so long as their workload permits and it doesn’t impact negatively on business operations? Try to be consistent in your treatment of staff, although in practice it is likely to be easier for staff to watch the matches or other sports events if they are office based, rather than on the shop floor. If any difference in treatment between office and shop floor staff is likely to cause employee relations issues, this may influence your decision on whether to allow staff to watch matches during their working hours.  

Now is a good time to check that your relevant HR policies and procedures are up-to-date and fit for purpose. Speak with your Make UK adviser or email [email protected] if you would like further information about the support Make UK can provide. 

Beware of ‘banter’ 
For many, the England and Team GB events will be a key focus. But with so many different nations taking part (24 teams in the Euros and 206 teams in the Olympics) some employees will have other national loyalties. Remember that national banter has the potential to stray into the realms of discrimination, so remind staff in advance that, when demonstrating support for a particular national team, they must comply with your dignity at work policy.  Flag with everyone that all members of your workforce are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect - no matter which team they support.

Avoid injury time 
Keep in mind health and safety considerations, as if employees decide to watch a sports event with friends at the pub prior to the start of a shift there may be more than the usual temptation to indulge and join the party. This will be most relevant if you have workers who start their shifts later than the standard working day (for example, night-workers). Emphasise that your drugs and alcohol policies will remain in force, that there is no excuse for anyone attending work under the influence of alcohol or drugs and that any such behaviour may lead to summary dismissal. Remember too that if you decide that you will allow employees to watch sports events in the workplace, you should be careful not to condone drinking alcohol if this would ordinarily be against your policy.  

The ‘sickie’ 
Inevitably, some staff members who did not think to book leave in advance, or whose request for leave has been denied, may consider taking ‘a sickie’. Making a false sickness claim, especially where employees are entitled to contractual sick pay, is essentially defrauding the company and can amount to gross misconduct. Advising employees that they will be subject to a return-to-work interview on their return may help to dissuade employees from taking time off when they are not genuinely unwell. 
With this in mind, it is also worth trying to agree in advance with unions and employee representatives in advance of these big sporting fixtures how any unauthorised absences will be dealt with. Although it should not really be necessary, you might want to make it very clear that there is no ‘statutory right to time off to watch a football match, or other sports event’ - no matter how big a fan an employee may be - and anyone absenting themselves without proper prior permission or reasonable explanation may be subject to disciplinary action. Don’t forget, though, that a failure to turn up for work would not of itself be sufficient grounds automatically to dismiss an employee. You would still need to conduct a reasonable investigation into the reasons for any unexplained absence and make a finding based on a reasonable belief as to the real reason for that absence.  

How we can help 
Make UK is here to support you with any steps you need to take to prepare for, or guidance you may need during, the forthcoming sporting season.  

If you are a Make UK subscriber, you can speak to your regular adviser with any queries and to request further consultancy support.  

If you are not a Make UK subscriber, our expert HR and legal advisers can offer guidance on a consultancy basis. For further information, contact us on 0808 168 5874 or email [email protected]

News / HR & Legal / Make UK