World cup fever: How HR can keep staff in check

Two leading lawyers provide a guide for HR to handle unprofessional behaviour during the upcoming football season

World cup fever: How HR can keep staff in check

With the 2018 FIFA World Cup set to kick off in Russia on Thursday (14 June), football fans in Singapore are gearing up for late nights at the local waterhole to root for their favourite teams.

Luckily for those who have to make their way to the office the next day, the favourable time difference between the two countries will not disrupt much of their sleep – with most matches taking place between 6pm and midnight.

Only about a fifth of the 64 games will air at 2am Singapore time.

Regardless, employers may still face with a slip in discipline from some staff, so HRD got in touch with employment lawyers from Clyde & Co, Chris Holme, partner, and Corinna Harris, professional support lawyer, for a guide on handling possible issues from ardent sports fans.

Requests for time off
: Inevitably during major sporting events, employers can receive a higher number of holiday requests. These should be dealt with in the normal way – on a first come, first served basis.

Employers should treat each request in the same way, without giving preference to some requests over others, as this could be deemed discriminatory.

So, if employees are allowed to leave early to watch the build up to the Tunisia v England match on 18 June, then requests to watch the build up to the Portugal v Spain match, which is at the same time on 15 June, should be treated in the same way.

A rise in absenteeism
: Employers should not automatically assume that absence on the day of, or the day after, a big match is not genuine.

Before deciding whether disciplinary action is appropriate, employers should investigate the particular circumstances (including the employee's explanation and any evidence for the absence, such as a doctor's note).

Absenteeism is less likely if employees are made aware that absences are monitored and that unauthorised absence may lead to disciplinary action.

At the same time, employees may not take non-genuine sickness absence if they are shown a degree of flexibility – such as allowing them to follow matches at work to some extent, or to leave work earlier and make up the time.

Working shorter days
: The morning after the night before: what if employees come in late the day after a World Cup match?

Employers may decide not to take a strict approach, especially if the employee regularly works longer hours than required. But in other circumstances, employers may take action in the usual way, initially by speaking to the employee on an informal basis and then taking more formal action if this reoccurs.

Watching matches at work
: If employees are allowed to use IT systems to watch or follow World Cup matches during work time, employers should provide guidance on what is permitted.

For example, it should be made clear that any such use must not be excessive and should not interfere with business needs, and whether there are limitations on what can be viewed or downloaded to work systems.

Showing inappropriate behaviour – “football hooligan-ism”
: Healthy banter at work can be beneficial to the business, helping build team spirit and morale. That said, there is a risk of harassment or discrimination where rivalries create a hostile, degrading or intimidating working environment and if that happens, employers should take appropriate action.

Employers may consider taking positive steps to remind employees that such behaviour may lead to disciplinary action.

If employees are intoxicated at work, it will normally be appropriate to suspend them immediately. An investigation into their conduct should be carried out, which might include identifying whether there are any underlying reasons for this (such as alcoholism), before taking any disciplinary action.

If the inappropriate behaviour takes place outside work, employers should not assume that this will automatically lead to disciplinary action. It will usually depend whether the behaviour has any connection with the employee's work and the extent to which it may bring the organisation into disrepute, taking into account the employee's role and their behaviour.


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