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Football Fever

With the start of the World Cup this Friday this week’s article will focus on issues around leave particularly for those football fans wanting to see some of the games or those suffering the after effects of celebrating a victory or drowning their sorrows!

Surveys have suggested that during the last World Cup there was a greater tendency for employees to phone in sick.

It will be useful for employers to have a policy on absence during the World Cup and be clear about how requests for leave will be granted and emphasising that unauthorised absence could lead to disciplinary action. Employers should try and ensure there is a fair system in place for granting leave whilst maintaining minimum staffing levels, for example, on a first-come, first-served basis.

There is no statutory right to take time off to watch football unlike the other rights that exist for time off, for example, time off for dependants. However under the Working Time Regulations 1998, most workers have a statutory right to take 28 days paid holiday. If a worker’s contract specifies leave in excess of the Working Time Regulations then they can rely on their contractual entitlement. Part-time workers and workers in their first year of employment are covered by the Working Time Regulations in the same way as other workers.

A worker may ask to take any leave to which they are entitled by statute when they choose provided they give their employer the correct notice and take into account the terms of any relevant agreement. If there is no relevant agreement between an employer and a worker as to the notice to be given before taking holiday the notice period must be at least twice the period of the leave to be taken. For example, if a worker wants to take three days' leave, they must give their employer at least six days' prior notice. However, the employer has a right to refuse this request, provided the employer gives the correct notice and takes account of the terms of any relevant agreement. In the absence of any relevant agreement the employer must notify the worker within a period equivalent to the period of leave.

During the 2006 World Cup, supermarket chain Asda gave its 150,000 UK employees the chance to take up to two weeks’ unpaid leave during the tournament. While larger employers may be able to offer this kind of flexibility it may not be possible for smaller employers. However, employers may consider providing some other flexible working arrangements in order to help reduce absenteeism and improve employee relations, for example, allowing flexibility over start and finish times, allowing extended breaks, providing TV screens in communal areas so that employees can watch games during breaks and allowing shift swaps so that staff can rearrange their shifts around the games.

Employers should be mindful that making special arrangements for football fans may alienate those employees who are not interested in football. It is useful to make it clear that any time taken off for the World Cup is taken from annual leave entitlement or is made up at some other time so that those who are not interested in football do not feel aggrieved.

Some employers may allow their employees to use the internet to keep up-to-date with matches and others may not allow this. It will be important for employers to remind their employees of their internet use and monitoring policies so that staff are aware of their policy in advance and how it will be enforced.

Given the likelihood that many people will enjoy a drink while watching the matches it may also be important for employers to remind their employees of their policies on alcohol misuse. Employers should make it clear that disciplinary action could result from taking unauthorised time off work without good reason or for underperforming at work due to the effects of alcohol.

Further information on rights to annual leave and flexible working rights is available from your local CAB.

Siobhan Harding is an Information and Policy Officer with Citizens Advice

Belfast Telegraph