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    Crack out your footie shirts, apply that face paint and start practising Sweet Caroline – the Qatar 2022 world cup is finally here!

    Yes, all around the world fans are getting ready to cheer their side on. Back here in the UK, we are all readying the £5 sweepstakes or scrambling to book annual leave.

    We thought we would put together this little blog to give you a heads-up on some of the HR and Employment issues that might have you catch you offside during this exciting tournament.

    Ready your squad

    The warm-ups are in full swing (or sweat with the searing heat), matches are on the cusp of beginning and you need to be straight with your team on how you’re going to approach the world cup.

    Having a game plan now may save you a lot of aggro in the next couple of weeks.

    Make decisions now on your stance, gather your squad and lay out the match plan. If the match plan is “business as usual” – let them know. Be clear with your communications.

    Watching Matches

    So, there are a couple of ways the avid fans can watch the matches that count for them:

    1. Annual leave
    2. Watching matches at work
    3. Temporary Flexible working or unpaid leave
    4. Pulling a sickie

    Annual leave – For most employees annual leave is going to be the best bet for securing time off to watch, or even attend (if you’re lucky), the matches if they fall in work hours.

    Once the group stages are over, matches are more sporadic, meaning employees who wish to have time off might only have a couple of days to book the leave depending on what the business’ rules and procedures are for booking holiday.

    As a general rule, subject to anything different in the business’ rules, workers who want to take paid annual leave must give twice as many days’ notice in advance of the first day of leave as the leave’s duration.

    This could throw managers in a bit of a pickle if on a Monday they get requests from their team to have the Friday off.

    First thing is first, employers and managers should check their holiday policies and employment contracts to check for any rules around booking or refusing holiday.

    It’s no good if a whole department books off the same time, so depending on the appetite and interest in the world cup, managers should have open conversations about who is seeking to take time off.

    Watching matches at work

    This is the manager’s call! Streaming matches at work can either boost well-being and moral, or completely distract your team. Managers will have to consider a sensible approach to this situation.

    With many of our clients managing remote teams, managers may be concerned about employees viewing the match during work hours on their work computers. Can this be monitored? Do you want to monitor it? It is possible but may open a can of GDPR and privacy worms and what about building trust in your teams. Staff must be informed of why and how you are monitoring their activity.

    If you suspect that poor performance is a result of sneaky (unauthorised) sports viewing, this may then lead to considering going down a disciplinary route. Might you just rather address this head on before it becomes an issue and get some rules in place about the world cup viewing. For example, we talk about temporary flexible working below as one option.

    Temporary flexible working or Unpaid Leave

    “Can I work earlier and finish earlier?”

    “Can I work from home and have the match on in the background”

    For most companies, December is the end of the holiday year, meaning many employees are likely to have spent their holiday allowance or keeping some for the Christmas festivities.

    This means that many employees may instead ask informally for temporary flexible working arrangements. Managers should consider business and client needs carefully before allowing this.

    There could be capacity issues if, say, there are less people in one morning or afternoon because of the scheduling of a popular match at 10am or 1pm. If allowances are made, employees should be made aware that performance and output is expected to be the same!

    Granting unpaid leave is another option to consider.

    Pulling a sickie

    Okay, some people may be genuinely sick and can’t come in.

    But there could be cases of calling in sick to watch the match or self-inflicted hangovers from celebrations the night before. The important thing is for managers to follow their own sickness absence policies and procedure.

    If you suspect that an employees sickness is not genuine, or you have evidence it is not so, speak to HR to look at whether it would be appropriate to initiate disciplinary proceedings.

    A word on discrimination…

    Maradona once said “football isn’t a game, or a sport, it’s a religion” – But, no, Diego Maradona has no jurisdiction (not in the UK at least).

    This means that you aren’t discriminating against an employee for not letting them watch their team assuming that is an across-the-board decision of course.

    There are 32 nations in the world cup and our offices are filled with a wonderful mix of people from all over the place so letting the England fans have time off to watch a match and not the Welsh would likely be discrimination if the decision was based purely on nationality.

    Managers should be mindful of this when making decisions about watching the games to avoid any discrimination Red Cards!

    Also given the controversy around the location of the world cup, its human rights record and its treatment of the LGBTQ+ community alongside deep-seated rivalries that can rear their heads with sports events involving competing nations, managers should think of reminding staff to be sensitive to other people's views and make sure there isn’t any unacceptable “banter” that goes too far, is offensive and ultimately discriminatory.