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Football Fever or Genuine Illness?

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Now the World Cup is finally here, it’s time for employers to “get on the ball” in managing the expected levels of workplace absenteeism during the period of the competition.

FootballThe tournament runs until 11 July. The English National team’s fixtures started on Saturday June 12 with further fixtures arranged for 7.30pm on Friday 18 June, and at 3pm on Wednesday, 23 June. With the exception of the 23 June fixture, these games fit in with normal working patterns and should pose few problems for employers, although interest in the competition will grow should England qualify from the group stages.

In the aftermath of the 2006 World Cup, absenteeism is said to have cost the UK economy some £3 billion, so many businesses are already predicting significant losses due to unauthorised staff absenteeism.

Absenteeism will increase for most businesses during the World Cup; this figure will increase the further England progress through the competition. However, those employers that harness the feel good factor generated during the competition are likely to improve staff morale and adopting flexible working practices can be key in minimising unauthorised absences.

Proactive employers will remind employees how unauthorised absence will be dealt with according to disciplinary procedures and try to limit unauthorised absences by:

  • identifying that employees absent without authorisation will not be paid
  • stipulating that return to work interviews will take place for every employee on their return to work from an absence;
  • making it clear that disciplinary action will follow if a pattern of absence is found for an employee during the World Cup;
  • closely monitoring all employee absence throughout the period of the World Cup.

For employers wanting to avoid problems with absenteeism, a range of flexible temporary measures could be implemented, for example, allowing employees to watch games in a communal area in the workplace or at their work stations, allow radios in the workplace, encourage short notice annual leave requests or flexi-time working to allow later start times in the aftermath of important games.

However, it is important to maintain fairness in the treatment of all employees during this period. Not all employees are interested in football or will be supporting England during the competition. However, those genuinely supporting other teams should be treated no less favourably so as to avoid falling foul of laws on race discrimination.

Although it is more likely that men will be first in the queue for holiday requests, leave should be allocated fairly during this time to avoid allegations of sex discrimination. There are various initiatives to ensure fairness:

  • For the 4 weeks of the competition, suspend normal holiday rules, such as the limit on the number of employees off at the same time;
  • Make sure that flexibility and any perceived perks of the competition are given to non-England supporters in terms of other key matches;
  • Offer flexible working options to all employees, regardless of whether they are football fans or not;
  • Provide football-free areas.

Through careful planning and flexibility, the World Cup can prove to be positive for business and a powerful tool for improving productivity and staff morale.

For more information please contact Shaun Duffy at:

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