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MAJOR SPORTING EVENTS: EMPLOYER’S CONSIDERATIONS
“With the European Championships and the Olympics this summer I am concerned that some of my staff, who are avid sports fans, might over indulge and be absent to watch the matches and view the events. What can I do as an employer? I don’t want to be unreasonable, but I still have a business to run”
Major sporting events often cause employers a few headaches. Research shows that they tend to increase absenteeism, and can cause other conduct issues at work. As an employer you have options on how strict or flexible you want to be.
Timing of Events
If major sporting events are taking place during the day, then sometimes flexibility with staff can help provided it doesn’t affect your customers. If match kick-off times are during working hours then of course there is no legal right to take the time off but flexibility in allowing employees to make up time elsewhere can assist and encourage employees to attend work rather than take sickness leave. You should also have regard your staff who are not the slightest bit interested in sport, to make sure they are not disadvantaged by the working arrangements.
Sickness and Alcohol
If you fear increased sickness absences, you can, before the events, remind employees of the sickness absence policy and the importance of not faking sickness, which can be a very serious disciplinary issue. Employees might of course be able to book holiday in advance should they wish to do so.
Determining whether absences are genuine or sport related can obviously be addressed further on return to work interviews. If employees are faking sickness you are perfectly entitled to take that further as a serious disciplinary matter if you wish to do so, indeed the Employment Appeal Tribunal (Ajaj v Metroline West Ltd) has recently reconfirmed that, depending on the facts, pulling a ‘sickie’ can be treated by an employer as Gross Misconduct as it is fundamentally related to honesty and trust.
Likewise if you have alcohol and drug policies then employers can reiterate the terms of the policies. Being under the influence of alcohol at work can clearly be treated as a very serious disciplinary matter, but remember also that might be viewed differently by a Tribunal if the inebriation was condoned or encouraged by the employer.
Finally – be aware that inevitably in sporting events nationalism is part and parcel of the competition. As an employer you have to be careful that boundaries are not transgressed as nationalism can easily turn into racism or discrimination. As an employer you are generally vicariously liable for the acts of your employees, which means that abuse or discriminatory language, from one employee to another at work, can land you the employer in the Tribunal.
Ultimately it is a choice for each individual employer and how much they embrace sporting events within the workplace. You are perfectly entitled to give no leeway at all, but for many employers, provided they are alert to some of the issues above, a degree of flexibility can assist in the harmonious running of the business and contribute to staff morale.
Andrew Macmillan, Solicitor, Motor Industry Legal Services