Avoiding an own goal! – World Cup HR dilemmas

In July 2021, England made it into the Euro’s Finals against Italy. It was a momentous occasion for England and we saw many employers struggling with staffing issues during the time that the Euros were on. This year, the FIFA World Cup takes place in Qatar between 20 November and 18 December 2022.

Last year, no one expected England to make it to the Euros Finals. This meant that issues arose at the very last minute once the fixtures had been agreed. Of course we are hoping that England do just as well but employers should not leave it until the last minute to make arrangements, especially as the Final Match is due to take place on 18 December 2022, so close to Christmas!

Kick off times for group matches have been scheduled for 10am, 1pm, 4pm and 7pm. Many employees will be in work during these times and this could have serious implications for employers, such as increases in holiday requests, unauthorised absence (especially seeing as a lot of companies have their holiday period finish in December and most employees will have already used their entitlement), staff being intoxicated at work and/or inappropriate conduct by staff.

Here are some tips to help with any potential issues that may arise.

1. See the tournament as an opportunity: Handled correctly, embracing the World Cup could help with employee engagement without having a detrimental impact on productivity. Actively addressing how the tournament sits along work commitments means that a balance can be struck between getting work done without the football acting as a distraction.

2. Be flexible: Where possible, and within reason, allow employees to adjust their hours or place of work to accommodate them watching certain matches. This may necessitate longer or later lunch breaks, adjusting start and finish times, tweaking rotas, or switching work from home days. The requirements for approval should be made clear, as should whether (and if so, how) any lost hours should be made up, or taken out of annual leave entitlements. If this style of flexibility is not an option, can you allow staff to tune into the internet or radio to have the match on in the background whilst they are working?

3. Accommodate annual leave: Managers should be prepared for short notice requests for (or cancellations of) annual leave, particularly in the later stages of the tournament, and be timely, understanding and consistent when considering such requests, even if they fall outside any usual holiday approval protocols.

4. Monitor sickness absence: Absence on days of, or the day after, certain matches may give rise to concerns about whether the sickness is genuine, or has been brought about due to the fixtures or for example, excess alcohol the night before. While employers should not be quick to make assumptions, and a one-off may be tolerated, inappropriate, repeated or regular absences demonstrating a pattern of behaviour may need to be addressed through sickness or, if appropriate, disciplinary policies. Employers should consider making it clear to their staff that unauthorised absences will be unpaid and may lead to action being taken under their disciplinary policy. Consider the use of return-to-work interviews to help identify and address non-genuine sickness absence. Consider the final match on Sunday, 18 December: it should be expected that a large number of employees would call in the next day (Monday) to take the day off if England were to win this match. Could your workplace accommodate a later starting time or is there any other potential way around it that would also meet business needs?

5. Working from home: Employers inevitably have less visibility and control over staff who are working from home so it would be harder to monitor if they are watching football when they are meant to be working. However, homeworkers and hybrid workers are generally trusted when working remotely, and many are afforded some flexibility over their working patterns. Any concerns about unauthorised absence or poor performance should be addressed in the company’s usual way.

6. Create a sense of community: Consider whether to make a space available for people to watch matches together, providing scope for networking as well as the game. You may need to consider if the workplace has appropriate licences for this. Employers should also remember staff who are less interested in watching a match but may nevertheless want to get into the spirit of things and consider arranging activities linked to football or participating countries. Allowing staff to watch or listen at their desks (if available) may help keep on the good side of staff who are less interested.

7. Beware of discrimination, bullying and harassment risks: Employers should avoid focussing flexibility or events around matches only involving certain countries and be mindful of comments or behaviour that may arise between supporters of different teams or when talking about particular players. Similarly, some workers may object to the tournament’s location based on concerns about gender equality and other social issues. Employers should promote diversity and inclusivity, and endorse a culture of respect, taking proactive steps to addressing any concerns if and as they arise.

8. Introduce a policy: A policy or statement that sets out the employer’s expectations about what is, and what is not, acceptable during the tournament, any temporary rules in place, and the extent to which arrangements are company-wide, office-wide, or at a manager’s discretion, will help employees and managers alike understand the position. Any policy should be clearly communicated and applied consistently.

Businesses should be clear on their expectations and make these known to staff as soon as possible. This will help to reduce issues later in the tournament as we cannot certainly predict who will win in the group stages.

For help and assistance in drafting a policy bespoke to your business and the World Cup, any disciplinary policies or dealing with any HR issues then please contact Sarah Collier on 01204 527777 or scollier@kbl.co.uk.