In all my years as an employment lawyer (I feel tired even thinking that), I have written more articles on two particular topics than on everything else put together. First, the old staple - employment law do’s and don’ts at the office party. Secondly, what to do when your employees go missing courtesy of a major sporting event. Be it awol at the Ashes, oversleeping after Olympic partying or a Wimbledon sickie, I’ve done (ie, written about, obviously) them all. The content doesn’t vary much - changes in technologies mean that nowadays I write sagely about computer use policies for staff surreptitiously screening Murray’s latest nerve-jangler at work, rather than about how to deal with massed decamping to the local pub. But the essence of it really doesn’t change: plan ahead; think about flexible working; consider use of annual leave; consistency of sanction; make concessions as a perk etc etc. What is telling, though, is that in those same years as an employment lawyer, I don’t think I have actually at any point had to advise on any ‘real life’ issue related to sporting events - be that unauthorised absence, disciplinary matters or anything else. Clearly, my clients have impeccably behaved employees and are themselves excellent managers - but I can’t help thinking, as articles and tweets proliferate as to how to deal with the dire HR consequences of the World Cup, that the whole issue may simply be overblown and just not that much of a problem in practice (I’d love to hear from you if you disagree).
And so I considered whether or not to dust down and update my last commentary on the topic and concluded that really, there is little point. ACAS has produced guidance which says everything that realistically needs to be said (and possibly a bit more) - you can read it at http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=2953. The broad themes of the guidance are flexibility and co-operation: a useful reminder, but hardly rocket-science (with the best will in the world). The England games for the most part take place well after working hours (at least for non-shift workers): for those of you who don’t have them etched in your brains, here’s a reminder of the timings - http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/teams/england/fixtures. Realistically, any issues which do arise are likely to be at the less technical end of the HR spectrum and should be easily managed under your normal procedures. The key surely has to be to take a stance which appropriately reflects the culture of your organisation and to deal consistently with any issues which emerge.
As far as I’m concerned, I’m keeping my powder dry for Wimbledon. Though having just drawn France in the World Cup sweepstake, I may have to put in my request for a morning off on 14 July in the unlikely event they make it through to the final.