Wayne Rooney’s injury may have raised concerns over England’s World Cup chances this summer, but the likelihood is that the national enthusiasm for the competition will be as widespread as ever. As such, employers and HR Directors should be considering the company policy on unexpected staff absence in preparation for the forthcoming matches.
Recent surveys have suggested that during the last World Cup and the 2004 European Championships there was a greater tendency for employees to phone in sick. Whether this was connected to watching the football or being too hungover to get into work the next day is not clear. Nonetheless staff absenteeism, for whatever reason, has a negative impact on turnover and company productivity.
The football World Cup starts on 9 June and goes right through to 9 July 2006, and a policy in relation to absences during this period will need to be communicated with all staff well beforehand. It is important to remind employees that as the World Cup is not far away, any requests for holiday during the tournament should be made as soon as possible. If applicable, an employer should make clear the basis upon which requests will be granted, for example in accordance with the normal holiday procedure, or on a first come first served basis.
Under the Working Time Regulations 1998, employees have the right to take up to four weeks paid holiday. Employees may also be entitled to additional holiday under their contract of employment. Employers and workers can agree how and when to give notice of when leave is to be taken.
In the absence of an agreement, the notice period that a worker must give should be at least twice the period of the leave to be taken. An employer may refuse the worker permission to take leave requested within a period equivalent to the period of the leave.
For example, if a worker wants to take a day’s leave, he or she would have to give at least two days’ notice. The employer can come back within one day to refuse the leave. This provides employers with flexibility where, for example, a number of other workers have also applied to take the same day off.
To discourage staff from taking unauthorised sick leave, an employer should highlight that levels of work attendance are subject to monitoring and sickness absences will be investigated if they coincide with football matches. Employers should also emphasise that any allowances, such as flexible working time options, and any unauthorised sick leave investigations will be enforced for all staff whether football fans or not.
This will avoid any claims of positive discrimination for football fan staff. It is important to emphasise that this is applicable for both male and female members of staff to avoid any claims of sex discrimination.
In addition, an official reminder should also be given that attendance at work whilst under the influence of alcohol would be a disciplinary matter and that appropriate action may include dismissal.
Employers should consult their policies on sick leave in those cases where they believe it has been taken falsely. However, employers should consider their employment policies before considering whether to investigate the cause of the sickness and penalising staff who have taken time off to watch the football.
Legally, employers should review whether there is a contractual obligation to pay for sick leave. If there is a contractual obligation to pay sick pay then employers may be in breach of contract if they refuse to do so.
If there is no contractual sick pay scheme the employee will only be able to rely upon the statutory sick pay scheme. Generally this provides that the employee will not be entitled to sick pay during the first three days of the sickness absence. The current rate of statutory sick pay is £70.05. You may also dispute whether the employee was genuinely off sick. However, employers may want to consider the negative repercussions to staff morale, resulting from strong punitive actions.
It may benefit employers to enter into the spirit and enthusiasm of the World Cup to improve employee relations. There are several ways that this can be done – employers could offer facilities for watching football within the workplace, or consider offering a temporary flexible working time policy, allowing employees to leave work in time for those matches that commence after 5pm. This time could be made up on another day. Similarly if there has been an evening match the policy on flexibility could be used to allow employees to start work an hour later.
Guy Guinan is an employment partner at national law firm Halliwells LLP.