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Love it or loathe it, the FIFA World Cup 2022 is nearly upon us (20 November to 18 December)! Of course, not everyone is a fan of ‘the beautiful game’, but the forthcoming World Cup matches - this time hosted in Qatar - could provide a welcome opportunity to boost staff morale, as well as presenting the odd workplace headache. Here are some of Make UK’s top tips for managing potential HR issues during the forthcoming football frenzy.  

Make sure your players are on board with your game plan 

It is important to communicate your intentions and expectations to staff clearly in relation to the forthcoming World Cup games, so that everyone knows the rules in advance. For example, will you make temporary changes to your leave policy to allow staff more scope to enjoy the matches (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?

Fortunately, there is only a three-hour time difference between Qatar and the UK. However, some games will take place during the standard working day and it would be reasonable to anticipate an increase in holiday requests for days or shifts which are affected by important games. (The first two rounds of group fixtures will kick off at 10am, 1pm, 4pm and 7pm in the UK.  Kick-off times for the final round of group games, plus the subsequent knockout matches, will be at 3pm and 7pm, and the final will kick off at 3pm UK time. For a full list of the World Cup first round matches, see World Cup 2022: Day-by-day fixture & TV guide - BBC Sport).

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 too that not all leave requests will be to watch football. 

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, should go a long way towards managing expectations. Hopefully this will help to avoid misunderstandings and ensure that any HR-related issues that arise in relation to the games are dealt with fairly and consistently once the tournament is underway.  

Offering flexibility could boost your fan base

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

The ‘sickie’ - taking a dive

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 also 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 how any unauthorised absences will be dealt with. Although it shouldn’t 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’ - 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 be sufficient grounds in itself to automatically 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.  

Keep your eye on the ball 

Will you allow employees to watch games in the workplace? (The BBC and ITV will be live-streaming the World Cup matches). Temporarily setting up a communal television might reduce the risk of unauthorised absence and boost employee interaction and staff morale. 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, 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 the World Cup 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 a game so long as their workload permits it 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 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 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 team’s matches will be the key focus. But with over 32 different nations taking part some employees will have other national loyalties. Remember that national banter has the potential to stray into the realms of discrimination, so ensure employees are aware that all members of the workforce are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect - no matter which team they support. Remind staff that when demonstrating support for a particular national team, they should comply with your dignity at work policy. It is vital that employees are treated consistently and that any special arrangements or practices are operated flexibly and fairly to avoid discrimination.  

Avoid injury time

Finally, keep in mind health and safety considerations, as if employees decide to watch a game 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. You should emphasise that your drugs and alcohol policies remain in force during the tournament, there is no excuse for employees attending work under the influence of alcohol or drugs and any such behaviour may lead to summary dismissal. Remember too that if you decide that you will allow employees to watch football in the workplace, you should be careful not to condone drinking alcohol if this would ordinarily be against your policy. 

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 World Cup. 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].
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