The World Cup finals are almost upon us and, while they will provide a feast
of football, they will also bring headaches for business leaders – accountancy
firms will be affected as much as anyone.
As usual, the accountant is one of the first ports of call for many SMEs when
a client company has a problem, whether it is related to financial affairs or
not. After all, you are the font of all knowledge, aren’t you?
The two main areas of concern are absenteeism definitely, and exaggerated
patriotic behaviour potentially. Tackling absence is a costly and time-consuming
exercise at the best of times, but a major event of this nature has the
potential to seriously damage business.
It’s understandable that everyone will want to support ‘their’ team, but most
of the matches are during normal working hours, as all the games in Germany will
kick-off between 2pm and 8pm. And it’s not just the England games that may cause
a problem. Owing to the freeing up of European labour laws many firms have
multinational workforces and individuals will all want to watch ‘their’ teams,
whatever the time of day.
So how do we approach Friday 9 June confident in the knowledge that we will
be able to run our business and allow employees the opportunity of watching
their team in action?
Fortunately, there are practical measures employers can take, such as
installing a television set in the workplace (see below), on the basis that it’s
better to have staff watching a game for a couple of hours and then getting back
to work, than having them take a ‘sickie’ for the full day to see their team
play. This could also have the benefit of avoiding hangover absences the next
day, which could happen if workers watch the game in the pub.
Companies could also encourage employees to take holidays, either part days
or full days, or to exchange shifts with non-football supporters. Unpaid time
off could be granted, where practicable. However, while employers can encourage
staff to be reasonable, there will still be some absence problems, so what do
Staff should be advised, by general memo, that the company will consider any
reasonable request for time off, either through holidays or exchange of shifts,
but will not tolerate unauthorised absence. They should be told that absence
controls will be enforced during the World Cup and short-term absences will be
investigated when an employee returns to work. Warnings should also be issued
that reporting for work under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or consuming
them during the working day, are gross misconduct offences. Staff should also be
reminded of the equal opportunities policy – your client companies have them,
haven’t they? They should also be warned that racist behaviour will not be
Of course, some employers will have a business that cannot afford to have any
disruption and require all employees to work normally with no concessions.
Whatever the situation, it’s absolutely essential that employers communicate
this to all employees as early and as clearly as possible.
Here are some tips for employers who are happy to make reasonable
arrangements to allow some of their employees to watch some matches, provided it
does not have an adverse impact on the business.
Obviously employers will have to decide, in advance, how many employees they
are able to release at any one time and communicate this to the workforce. It
might be a good idea to post a list of fixtures on the notice board with a
holiday planner next to it. Employees who may have already committed to taking
holidays with their partners may not wish to use up their holiday entitlement
for the World Cup finals. Therefore, if possible, it may be worth allowing an
unpaid leave of absence.
However, employers need to be aware that employees not interested in football
may subsequently ask for additional unpaid leave for other reasons and may feel
unfairly treated if their football-loving colleagues have had such requests
granted and theirs is not.
Shift-swapping seems a fairly obvious option, but if employers adopt it I
suggest they don’t use their own time to organise it – let the employees do the
work. It’s also essential to communicate to employees what will happen if they
break the rules. Whatever course employers decide upon, they will need to take
the lead. If they leave World Cup arrangements to employees to organise, it will
invariably turn out not as they would wish.
It is also too easy to jump in at the deep end and take severe disciplinary
action against absentees and get the procedures wrong. At the very least, the
consequences will be poor morale but, even worse, there is the possibility of
employment tribunal proceedings and a hefty compensation bill.
Accountancy firms who handle clients’ payrolls should be aware that proper
employment procedures have to be followed before pay can be docked for
unapproved absenteeism. Does your client company have these written procedures
It’s obviously better to come to co-operative arrangements with employees,
but companies must warn staff that sanctions will be imposed on those who
disrupt their operations to watch a game of football. We should be able to enjoy
any major international event without too much disruption to the business.
WORLD CUP VIEWING
If you’re thinking of installing a television on-sitemake sure the building
appropriate licence. If this is to be an extra cost to the company,employers can
suggest that the interested parties make a contribution.
Those employers who are unwilling or unable to allow employees to take time
off for the World Cup or to have a television on-site should be aware that it’s
almost inevitable that some of their employees will be disappointed.
It is therefore absolutely vital they communicate this decision to all
employees, in writing, as soon as possible.
Yvonne Malley is managing director of First Business Support, employment
law and health and safety provider
For a free World Cup kit for guidance notes for empleyers, see
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