Robert Holland: How employers can avoid the potential pitfalls of Euro 2024

Robert Holland: How employers can avoid the potential pitfalls of Euro 2024

Robert Holland

We’re Scotland, so when it comes to major football tournaments we haven’t exactly been clocking up the air miles over the years, writes Robert Holland.

However, under the stewardship of Scotland boss Steve Clarke, things have changed for the better. We reached Euro 2020 (actually held in 2021 because of the pandemic) and we’re in the top tier of the Nations League for the first time.

And of course we’ve made it to Euro 2024 in Germany, with excitement mounting as fans get ready to support their national team in the big event over the next few weeks, starting on Friday against the hosts.

Amid the growing sense of anticipation, it’s also perhaps timely for businesses to consider their employment law strategies to mitigate potential legal risks and ensure a harmonious work environment.

During major sporting events like this, excitement runs high – but so does the potential for workplace issues such as unauthorised absence, employees under the influence of alcohol at work, and inappropriate conduct that can include discrimination, racism, bullying or harassment. Additionally, employers often see a spike in holiday requests during such periods, from both football fans and non-fans alike, and more “Working from Home” requests than would be normal for the time of year.

It can present a set of challenges for employers who will want their staff to enjoy a summer of soccer without compromising workplace decorum and productivity.

While not entirely like-for-like due to kick-off times, data from previous tournaments indicates a noticeable spike in workplace issues during major football tournaments.

To navigate these challenges, it is essential that employers ensure they have the right policies in place and that managers are aware of potential pitfalls. You might say a robust defensive formation is required.

These policies should include a clear Sickness & Absence Policy, a well-defined Code of Conduct, and comprehensive Discipline & Grievance, Bullying & Harassment, Drugs & Alcohol and Equality & Diversity policies. Having these clearly communicated and understood is crucial in setting expectations and boundaries for all employees. A reminder to staff to familiarise themselves with the firm policies would be timely.

Implementing these strategies will not only help mitigate risks but also boost employee engagement by demonstrating that the company values both their work and their passion for football. In doing so, businesses can negotiate Euro 2024 smoothly, maintaining both legal compliance and a motivated workforce.

Managing absenteeism proactively is vital. Employers should make it unequivocally clear that unauthorised absences will not be tolerated, are not paid, and could lead to disciplinary action. Implementing Return to Work Interviews can be an effective strategy to distinguish between genuine and dishonest sickness absences, such as those resulting from post-match festivities.

While some tournaments on the other side of the world present more problems with games being held in the morning and at lunchtime (remember Japan/Korea and breakfast kick-offs!) there will still be a temptation for staff to take a “sickie” after a big match.

A Drugs & Alcohol policy is essential, especially considering the provisions of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, which obligates employers to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of all employees. This includes managing the risks associated with employees being under the influence of alcohol at work. This would usually be grounds for disciplinary proceedings.

Meanwhile, flexibility can be a useful approach when it comes to holiday requests. For example, temporarily relaxing the cap on the number of employees who can take leave simultaneously might be appropriate in one-off circumstances.

However, it’s vital to process all holiday requests with consistent criteria to avoid any discrimination claims. Employers should be particularly vigilant about ensuring that these requests are handled equitably - favouring neither football fans nor non-fans and being mindful of not discriminating based on gender or any other protected characteristic.

Another area where employers must be cautious is in handling incidents of inappropriate conduct, which can be more prevalent during high-spirited events such as a work gathering for a big match. A clear and effective Bullying & Harassment policy should be in place and actively enforced to address any such issues promptly and fairly.

In particular, employers should be careful about workplace “banter” based on support of individual countries. While the ancient rivalry between Scotland and England is mostly good natured, an employee’s race or national origin is a protected characteristic. Employers should monitor to ensure no one feels intimidated or left out due to their allegiance for one team.

Proactively managing these legal considerations with clear policies and fair practices can significantly reduce the likelihood of workplace disruptions and potential legal challenges.

Furthermore, with many Euro 2024 games scheduled during the day, at teatime and in the evening, employers might consider allowing staff to watch matches while at work. From an employment law perspective, this approach has both benefits and potential pitfalls. On the positive side, permitting employees to watch games can boost morale, enhance engagement and foster a sense of camaraderie. However, without clear guidelines, this can lead to decreased productivity, inequity among staff and potential workplace conflicts.

To mitigate these risks, employers should establish explicit policies on how and when matches can be viewed, ensuring they are consistent with existing rules on breaks and workplace conduct. It is also important to ensure that any policies are applied uniformly to avoid claims of favouritism or discrimination.

By clearly communicating these policies and aligning them with the company’s operational needs, employers can support employee enthusiasm for Euro 2024 while maintaining a productive and fair work environment.

The goal is to support your workplace team in enjoying the event – while ensuring that business needs and workplace standards are not sidelined.

Robert Holland is a partner and head of employment law at Aberdein Considine

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