If it’s not the Olympics, it’s the Ashes, if not the Ashes, then it’s the possibility that Andy might be able to make it a second year as champion at Wimbledon.  On top of that, this year we also have the much awaited football world cup kicking off in Brazil on 12 June, plus “Le Tour” coming to the UK at the beginning of July. With all these sporting events to attend and to watch, when will your employees ever find time to get any work done?

With the tennis courts opening in the morning, the cyclists travelling through the afternoon and the earliest of the football matches kicking off at 5pm and the latest not until 11pm, or even 2am in one case, there is plenty to keep your workforce occupied right throughout the working day and well into the night. Given the allure of these sporting attractions, they could be the cause of disruption in the workplace and impact on productivity, as a result of a rise in absence levels, late arrivals to or early departures from the office, or due to poor performance by distracted employees who are at work. Recognising these challenges ACAS has issued guidance for employers on the world cup.

So what rights does an employer have in these circumstances?

The starting position is that absences by members of staff who are watching a sporting event (or who are nursing a hangover because of celebrations/commiserations the previous evening) should be treated the same as any other unauthorised absence. If you have a policy in place for dealing with this already, now is a good time to remind your employees about it, so they are fully aware of what is expected of them both in terms of their attendance and the holiday booking procedure.

Be careful, however, not to jump to conclusions and to treat employees consistently. You should ensure that any disciplinary policies and procedures are followed, that employees are dealt with fairly and given an opportunity to put forward their side of the story and that warnings are given, as appropriate. 

How to avoid unauthorised absences in the first place, so that valuable management time is not spent dealing with numerous disciplinaries after the event? 

The key is usually to take a practical and flexible approach, as far as possible, and to be clear from the outset what will and won’t be tolerated.

Practical tips include:

  • arranging for a television to be left on in the workplace;
  • authorising access to websites which provide updates (provided that this is not going to crash your IT systems); 
  • allowing employees to listen to the radio at certain times;
  • adjusting start and finish times to give employees chance to be away from the office to watch the action / recover following the celebrations or commiserations of the previous evening;
  • agreeing to shift swaps between employees; and
  • considering whether working flexibly from home is appropriate for any employees. 

Be clear with staff though, that any such changes to working conditions or patterns are being introduced as a short-term exception only and that existing policies will kick in again once the summer sports season is over.

Be conscious, as well, of differing allegiances in the workplace. Don’t assume it’s only Wayne Rooney / Andy Murray / Chris Froome that everyone wants to watch – you could be making discriminatory decisions if you don’t allow others to follow their national sports stars as well.

The best of both worlds?

Setting out clear expectations, adopting a more informal and flexible approach and taking advantage of the technology that is now available to businesses, should put you in a strong position to maintain high performance and productivity throughout the summer sports season.

Working with employees to accommodate their requests, where possible, will earn you some easy employee relations points and end up saving management time by building up goodwill with employees and avoiding the dreaded “sickie” that will leave you in the lurch.

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