Allen NicolaWith the long awaited fixtures kicking off this month, there will be no escaping the football extravaganza, but what should employers consider when their staff want to watch games that fall within working hours? Nicola Allen, employment law solicitor at Foot Anstey LLP, recommends that employers should plan how they will manage potential problems and communicate their approach with staff in advance.

Managing staff wanting to watch matches that fall within working hours

With the earliest week-day matches kicking off at 1pm in the UK, this tournament will inevitably risk causing some disruption for businesses across the country. Will there be flexibility on hours or will staff need to request holiday to watch a game? Although absences are likely to be short and intermittent, they will have some financial effect on employers who may also face difficulties in arranging cover. Having said this, offering no flexibility in working hours may just increase the risk of staff "calling in sick" and reduce morale within the workforce. To help manage and reduce these risks, employers would be well advised to make it clear in advance if there will be flexibility and/or how they will handle competing requests for leave. ACAS, the employment advice service, suggests gauging the level of interest by simply talking to the workforce to enable employers to foresee, and thus better prepare for, any potential issues. Further ACAS guidance in this area can be found here. Requiring staff to notify a more senior manager of any sickness absence during the World Cup period may also deter employees from "pulling a sickie". However, businesses should be mindful of not jumping to conclusions, as initiating disciplinary action with no clear evidence that the reason for absence isn't genuine may be a recipe for disaster.

Screening matches within the workplace

In an attempt to manage absenteeism and incentivise staff, some employers may look to put up screens in the workplace enabling staff, and potentially customers, to view big games. However, employers should be aware of the issues to consider before taking this approach. One such issue is choosing which games to screen, as employees of different nationalities must be treated equally. Failing to do so could lead to allegations of discrimination, a warning also echoed by ACAS. Also, businesses need to pay heed to the licensing regime for showing recorded games (which can be a licensable activity), and also pay particular care with office sweepstakes and private lotteries.

Dealing with 'banter' between colleagues

There is a danger that football "debates" and certain forms of language could also lead to allegations of race discrimination, as they did for ex-England Women's football coach Mark Sampson (for more on this please click here). Any inappropriate behaviour should be dealt with under disciplinary procedures where appropriate, although a pre-emptive reminder of the value you place on diversity and inclusivity and the need to respect colleagues may go a long way towards reducing the likelihood of such exchanges happening and escalating.

Considering staff use of social media

To avoid staff engaging with online discussion groups in working hours, our recommendations align with those of ACAS in that you remind staff of your existing social media policies, expectations during working hours, and the consequences of failing to comply with these. Sending a clear communication to staff in advance will minimise the disruption to your business and hopefully lead to a positive and productive workforce during what promises to be a great event.

If you would like to discuss any of the above points in further detail or require assistance in drafting a communication to staff, please contact Nicola Allen, senior associate, on +44 1752 675531 or email or your usual contact in the Foot Anstey employment team.