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How to manage sporting events in the workplace

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With a summer of sport ahead of us, a perfect storm of the Euros, Wimbledon and the Olympics, not to mention golf and cricket tournaments, but this can cause headaches for business owners and managers with staff wanting time off or failing to show up to work.

While many sporting events are being hosted in Europe some staff will obviously be working during the matches and events - so do you have to give your employees time off during major sporting occasions?

The simple answer is no, but as with all things employment law based there are compromises that can be made.

“Although there are no rules about whether you have to let staff have time off for sporting, cultural or religious events, a summer of sport often brings about various considerations within employment law, especially in industries directly affected by sports events such as tourism, hospitality, and retail,” said Pearson Senior Associate Solicitor, Carley Dhand.

“Employers face the ubiquitous problem of absenteeism when big sport is happening, it’s a perennial headache for business owners and navigating these issues requires a balance between accommodating employees' interests in sports and ensuring that business operations continue smoothly,” added Carley.

“Clear communication, consistent employment policies and letting staff know well in advance what is expected are key to addressing these challenges effectively.”

Sports in the workplace

Some important factors for employers to consider when tackling sports and the workplace:

Flexible Working Arrangements

Employers might experience increased requests for flexible working arrangements, especially if employees want to watch or attend games. Employers may need to manage these requests in accordance with relevant laws and workplace policies.

Overtime and Working Hours

Businesses involved in the hospitality or entertainment sectors might need to manage increased demand during a summer of sport, potentially leading to issues related to overtime pay, working regulations, and employee fatigue. The Home Secretary is considering extending opening hours in pubs if our home teams get into the later stages of the Euros – this will have two implications, longer working hours for hospitality staff, but also the hangover effect for staff the next day and possible absenteeism.

Annual Leave Management

With employees wanting time off to watch or attend sporting events, managing annual leave requests fairly and efficiently becomes crucial. Employers need to ensure they have clear policies in place regarding leave requests and how they will be managed during peak periods.

Discrimination and Equal Opportunities

This is a key consideration as employers should be vigilant to ensure that they do not discriminate against employees. This includes ensuring that opportunities for time off, or flexible working arrangements, are offered fairly to all employees, regardless of their personal interests.

Alcohol and Substance Abuse Policies

With sports events often associated with increased alcohol consumption, employers may need to reinforce policies around alcohol and substance abuse in the workplace, particularly in warehouses and factories and those industries where safety is a concern.

Be alert to absences when matches are on as well as the following day. Use your absence policy to actively manage these absences, which include holding a return-to-work meeting with any employees to discuss the reason for their absence.

Health and Safety Concerns

Employers should consider the impact on workplace health and safety, particularly if employees are distracted or fatigued due to late-night matches or celebrations.

Social Media Policies

With the proliferation of social media use during major sporting events, employers may need to remind employees of company policies regarding social media usage, particularly in relation to representing the company online and respecting confidentiality.

Remind employees that downloading sports programmes to watch at work is in breach of TV licensing laws. It may also be in breach of the employer’s IT policy.

“For many business owners time off for a match and the feel good feeling it creates outweighs loss of morale or unauthorised absence if they don’t, a business can probably afford 90 minutes for a football match, but be less inclined when it comes to five-day test matches, or a month of the Olympics,” said Carley.

How to manage office or factory staff and those staff based at home is another predicament for business owners.  Homeworkers could have a TV on in the background and effectively watch the match without formally taking time out, for the office staff consider a TV in the office or allow updates on staff phones, but always be aware that sport is not for all and other staff should be considered.

Sports and Discrimination

There may be risks of discrimination that an employer might want to be aware of, discrimination is prohibited in employment law under the Equality Act 2010 and nationality falls within the definition of race.

“England is not everyone’s home nation and so this is something to consider when screening matches for the Euros, I would hope common sense prevails but this is something to be aware of,” advised Carley.

If you’ve refused permission for staff to leave early for a religious event or refused permission to attend a religious event, but then allow staff to leave for a 5pm kick off that refusal could, potentially, be discriminatory.

Employers need to also be alert to potential discriminatory behaviour between staff or towards employees, particularly when passions are high and ‘banter’ gets out of control. Make it clear that offensive or racist remarks are not tolerated and can lead to disciplinary action.

Reviewing Employment Policies

This could be a good time to review your employment policies and make sure your employees are aware of them. Having a clear policy in place for sporting events will manage expectations from the outset and pre-empt any issues. A workplace policy will inform staff of any exceptions to usual working practices and help to define the parameters for disciplinary action if staff do not comply.  Also, once established, that policy can be used for other events.

“Sport is a great leveller and could in fact improve communication between employees, as well as break down hierarchical boundaries, business owners can take advantage of this and use sport to maximise team spirit within the office.

“My main advice for employers is to be like any good sporting manager, get your tactics right in advance, clearly explain them to your team, have good communication so everyone knows what part they have to play and hopefully the results will be good for the business,” said Carley.

How can we help?

For expert legal advice for your business including workplace policies and contracts of employment contact our Employment Law Solicitors on 0161 785 3500 or email 

Please note that the information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Pearson Solicitors and Financial Advisers Ltd or any of its members or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.

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