When sporting fever strikes, employers can sometimes be left at a loss as to how to manage employees who want to take time off to watch these events. There is obviously no legal obligation for an employer to allow employees to watch sporting events during working hours. But if some flexibility isn’t exercised, do you run the risk of employees taking unauthorised absences, or becoming distracted at work?
Looking back to the 2018 football World Cup, when England played Colombia, a study found that just two per cent of those asked planned to watch the game at work with almost half opting to watch at home and seven per cent stating they would watch it at the pub. Couple this with more than five million England fans planning to pull a ‘sickie’ the day after the match – how would you manage this?
When clients come to us for advice around employee policies and work practices, we advise organisations to use the ‘10 per cent model’. This means that if more than 10 per cent of the workforce would like to watch a match it may make more sense to allow them to take time out to enjoy it, rather than them all requesting time off or suddenly being struck with a rash of ‘sickness’ absences, timed mysteriously around a big game.
You should also consider the rest of the workforce not interested in watching the game or tournament, to ensure you’re being fair and consistent. For instance, you could perhaps offer them an early finish on another day or allow them an extra-long lunch, to keep the balance – and prevent any resentment creeping into the workplace.
During sporting tournaments (for instance the Rugby World Cup or an Ashes series) you should also check patterns of sickness and refer your employees to their handbook and their obligations to ensure they aren’t taking unauthorised absences. It is also helpful for you as an employer to have procedures in place for managing repeat absences of this nature.
As many people will also take to social media to watch the events or to see / discuss the highlights you should ensure you have a robust policy in place around watching events at work and ensure any company devices are protected.
Remember, as an employer you’re under no obligation to allow staff to watch events during working hours but if you can be flexible and fair in your approach you’re more likely to have staff onside, while not having to manage the headache of unauthorised absences.
Watson Burton’s dedicated employment lawyers have a strong national reputation because of their commitment to client service and the clear and pragmatic solutions and guidance they provide. To ensure your business doesn’t become a ghost town during national sporting events, contact Kerry Waters.