We have had some fantastic summers of sport over the last few years what with ‘Team GB’ doing phenomenally well at the Olympics, the tennis (come on Tim!) and obviously the cricket. There has been immense interest in work places across the country in the outcome of the Ashes series between England and Australia. The fifth test at the Oval brought large swathes of the country to a standstill, especially over the weekend, with travel companies and retailers reporting unusually quiet trading.
According to the CBI employers believe only a small proportion of absences from work – around 14 per cent – are not due to genuine sickness. However, this still adds up to some 23 million days lost unnecessarily each year at a cost of £1.7billion to the economy. Approximately half of employers believe there may be a link between one-off special events and people being absent. So the Ashes adds up to a big issue in other ways than just one.
Nonetheless, many employer and employee representative bodies have chosen to adopt a pragmatic approach to the issue, with the leader of the TUC, Brendan Barber, urging employers to allow workers to follow the progress of the final test match, that being the decider in a riveting series. nPower (the sponsors of the test cricket series) took this one stage further and set up television screens around its offices to allow workers to watch ball-by-ball action. nPower said that they prefer workers to turn up to work rather than have them “taking sickies”.
Nobody likes to be a kill-joy and we all recognise that we need to be sensible but at the same time employers may be faced with the unauthorised absence of members of staff who attended the cricket. Others may be faced with evidence (in the form of, say, television footage) of employees, some of whom may have taken annual leave to attend an event, engaging in disorderly or even violent behaviour before, during or after the event. Employers should be aware of taking peremptory action for such reasons – snap decisions could lead to costly claims before the employment tribunal. The ACAS code on disciplinary procedure and practice suggests that criminal offences committed outside the employment relationship should not be treated as automatic reasons for dismissal, regardless of whether the offence has any relevance to the duties of an individual as an employee. In the case of Post Office v. Lidiard, a 2001 case, Mr Lidiard was dismissed for bringing the Post Office into disrepute after he was convicted by a French court of hooliganism at a world cup match in Marseille. The violence in France received widespread press coverage. The employment tribunal ruled that Mr Lidiard’s dismissal was unfair but the Court of Appeal eventually found favour with the Post Office’s argument that Mr Lidiard’s conviction in France had (through bad publicity) brought the Post Office into disrepute, and re-submitted the case to the employment tribunal. Many employers may have difficulty proving any sort of detrimental effect on their business. A more prominent employee involved in any sort of disorderly or violent behaviour which receives widespread publicity could be more at risk of being found to have been fairly dismissed.
Violence and disorderly conduct may be an extreme and we do not see many such cases at cricket matches (let us hope that remains the case) but absenteeism of employees is far more common. Employers should not jump to conclusions simply because an employee has not turned up for work on a gloriously sunny match day! There may be a reasonable explanation. Employers should ensure that any disciplinary procedures and proceedings are followed, are dealt with fairly and that warnings are given. Disciplinary offences committed during test match cricket or any other sporting event should, strictly speaking, be treated the same as similar disciplinary offences committed at any other time.
Employers could decide to deal with such issues in a clear way and establish policies dealing with disciplinary offences during high profile sporting events. Such policies should be communicated to all staff and staff should understand what will and won’t be tolerated. Policies could also include statements on how the firm deals with the use of internet, radios and telephones during working hours.
In reality, many employers take a more realistic view of matters and they should consider how such policies may affect workplace morale. Practical tips include allowing a television to be left on in the workplace or give employees extended lunch breaks to allow them to watch at least part of the match or event during working hours. Internet usage could be allowed say by authorising a live scoreboard to tick away in the corner of the screen. Employers could also consider allowing employees to turn up early to work and provide breakfast if matches are scheduled for an early hour.
Such policies and taking a slightly more informal approach (especially where employees do not take advantage of such good will) could benefit all parties, score you some easy employee relations points and end up saving management time – which would otherwise be wasted during a disciplinary process and the costs of defending possible tribunal claims. Goodwill and morale as well as cricket will be the likely victors.