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Euro 2016 - ACAS say have a good team line, but are you ready for kick-off?

Are you ready for Euro 2016? ACAS has issued a guide for employers outlining the key issues to consider, but what this really reminds you is that…

Are you ready for Euro 2016? ACAS has issued a guide for employers outlining the key issues to consider, but what this really reminds you is that preparation for the tournament is key. Whatever approach you are taking, and whether or not you wish to act flexibly as ACAS suggest, you should have a plan in place and communicate it to your employees prior to the tournament starting on 10 June (and in particular before England and Wales play at 2pm on 16 June).

Attendance at work

Some of the games are being played during normal office hours, so most of you will find some issues arising from requests for time off. You are likely to see an increase in holiday requests and requests to leave work early from employees during the tournament.  How will you react to a flurry of people deciding to work from home on 16 June? ACAS say “Employers may wish to look at being more flexible when allowing employees leave during this period, with the understanding that this will be temporary arrangement”. You don’t legally have to do this, but there may be good reasons to do so.

Be aware of and understand your policies and employees’ contractual obligations, particularly around such events and around annual leave. If several members of staff request time off how will requests be prioritised? What is the reaction likely to be if a request is refused? Think about your resourcing needs and how accommodating you can be with requests for time off. It is unlikely that you will be able to grant each and every holiday request received, so it is important to deal with any requests fairly and consistently. 

Essentially, deciding whether to grant holiday is a balancing exercise for your organisation. You may have rules in place which only allow a certain number of employees to be off work at one time. You might consider relaxing these rules temporarily during the tournament. You may wish to grant a flexible approach to working hours (if you can) by allowing staff to swap or finish shifts early and make up time in advance or on their following shift. You must be fair and even-handed in how you respond to such requests. Be careful and do not favour some nationalities over others when the requests are considered. Communicating what you will do is sensible.

Be prepared for higher than usual sick absence rates. Do you have, or need to introduce, return to work interviews for all staff after each absence? Returns to work interviews are useful tools in the battle against casual absenteeism. They act to deter employees from taking ‘sickies’ because they will have to account for their absence to their line manager. Ensure your practices on certification for absence, including self certificates, is applied.

In the mornings following matches, and particularly if the teams supported by your workforce are successful, you may experience time-keeping issues in the workplace. It is recommended that lateness for work during the tournament is dealt with in the usual way under the disciplinary policy. 

Whatever approach you take, remember your obligations under the Equality Act. You cannot be more relaxed about England games (or those of Wales or Northern Ireland) than for other nationalities. You do also need to consider whether you can justify a difference in treatment for the football, when compared to Wimbledon or the Olympics later this summer, if a gender or race based indirect discrimination argument is put forward.

Social media and websites

It may be a sensible moment to remind employees of your organisation’s policies relating to equal opportunities and/or social media, and that any breach of these policies may result in disciplinary action. Sporting events inevitably give rise to rivalry, which can spill over into offensive comments against the opposing team about nationality or other protected characteristics. Your position should be made very clear. It is important to emphasise that the use of racist or abusive language in the workplace or any abusive comments via social networking sites will be viewed very seriously and that disciplinary action may be taken against the offending employees.

ACAS say “There may be problems around staff watching lengthy coverage via their computers or on personal devices. Employers should have a clear policy regarding web use in the workplace and the policy should be cascaded to all employees. If employers are monitoring internet usage then the data protection regulations require them to make it clear that it is happening to all employees. A web use policy should make clear what is and what is not acceptable usage”. Do be aware of your data protection obligations, but a well written policy, or communication ahead of the tournament, should provide you with the basis for taking action if you need to do so.

Other issues

Whilst ACAS do not raise the issue, if members of staff are offered corporate hospitality by a client or customer, make sure there is clear guidance as to what they can and cannot accept in line with the Bribery Act. It would make sense to remind employees of any relevant policies in place before the action gets underway.

Now is the time to review your policies to see whether they sufficiently deal with any issues that may arise and remind staff of their workplace obligations. Consistency is key and pre-planning your approach can ensure that is the case. Clear communication will hopefully avert problems and will enhance your ability to address issues when they arise.

If you would like to discuss your proposed approach or what you can do in accordance with your policies and procedures, please speak to your usual contact in the Weightmans employment, pensions and immigration team, or get in touch with Phil Allen (phil.allen@weightmans.com).