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Having A Ball: Minimising Absenteeism During The World Cup

In only a matter of days, Brazil will host the FIFA World Cup, quite possibly the biggest event in the international sporting calendar. 64 games will be played in total over the course of one month. That’s 96 hours, or 5,760 minutes, of football in just 31 days (plus time added on for injuries, extra time and the dreaded penalty shoot-out). And every single moment will be televised.

Thankfully for employers the majority of games will be played in the evenings.  The disruption that the games will cause is therefore unlikely to be a significant issue for many employers. However, a number of games will kick off at 5pm, and there will no doubt be a few employees who wish to sneak off a little early to get the good seat in the pub. Indeed, the failed attempt of an employee to escape his office in time for kick-off without being seen by the Big Bad Boss is the subject of a current TV advertisement for a well-known British lager. And it is this connection between sport and drink where the problems may begin for employers.

The effect of supporters’ heavy celebrations or sorrow drowning from the night before could have a negative impact on employees’ productivity. During the last World Cup, Drinkaware announced that 1 in 10 people go to work with a hangover at least twice a week, and they expected that this would increase significantly during the competition. As well as having an adverse impact on the efficiency and output of staff, this could also lead to an increase in employee sickness absences.     

So what can employers do to reduce the number of unauthorised absences? Well, one option would be to have a television in the office to allow staff to see the game. Whilst this would at least keep staff in the building, it is not particularly conducive to productivity, although employers could require that any lost time is made up elsewhere. Similarly, employers could allow staff to stream live video footage or radio coverage from the internet and have this available on their screens whilst they are working. It would have to be made clear that this was a one-off for the tournament and does not change any of the employer’s IT usage policies.

Allowing employees time off to watch a game, whether together as part of a team building exercise or on an individual basis taken from their annual leave, can create a great amount of goodwill, and staff may even be willing to put in longer hours if it means that they will get to see their team play. With 5pm starts during this tournament, the opportunity to allow a slightly early escape can do a great deal for staff morale. If you are taking staff out as a group to watch the game, it should be made very clear what behaviour is acceptable, particularly in relation to the consumption of alcohol.

The offer of flexible working may also encourage staff to ensure their workload is dealt with before heading off to view another 90 minutes of the Beautiful Game. It is generally accepted that providing some flexibility will actually discourage unauthorised absences and minimise the disruption to the business. Employers may even wish to allow staff to have flags or banners in the office on match days to raise morale, as long as this would not offend anyone else. 

It is important to consider the needs of those who are not interested in football just as much as those who are football mad, so an allocated “football free” area for relaxation away from World Cup fever may be appropriate.  Similarly, supporters of other nations will want the same flexibility for their nation’s key games as will be offered to England supporters. If these needs are not appropriately balanced, the employer may run the risk of a discrimination claim.

It will be important for employers to make it clear to their employees how unauthorised absences will be dealt with. Employers should explain that any absence that has not been authorised will not be paid, and that if there is a discernible pattern of unauthorised absences this could lead to disciplinary action. Employers could emphasise that absences will be monitored with greater scrutiny during the tournament.

Given that the gross domestic product (GDP) of some countries has grown immediately following their national team lifting the trophy, there could even be an economic reason to cheer on England in this year’s tournament. And remember, to paraphrase Bill Shankly, some people think football is a matter of life and death; it’s much more serious than that!


This article was first published as part of our Employment Law Update - June 2014. Register above to receive our updates as soon as they are published, directly to your inbox!

This article is offered for general informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Solomon Taylor & Shaw.