Co-authored by Andrew Willshire, Solicitor and Jason Riley, Trainee Solicitor.

Euro 2016 gets underway in the Stade de France on Friday 10 June and the tournament is due to conclude on Sunday 10 July. Match kick off times vary between 2pm and 8pm and the home nations, evidenced most notably perhaps by the Group B clash between England and Wales on Thursday 16 June, are all affected by the earlier, problematic kick off times.

There have been recent media reports and furore surrounding Oasis Academy Lord’s Hill and its decision to permit pupils to leave earlier than usual to watch the above match. This decision was subsequently reversed and the Academy will instead screen the match for pupils during school time.

How to permit employees to watch the tournament, especially when the match is during the “working day”, whilst managing unauthorised absence and the potential effect on morale are concerns also facing employers.

Acas has issued advice and guidance for both employers and employees ahead of the tournament. The main issues for employers and employees (who have an interest in the tournament) revolve around the following:

1. Requests for annual leave

Although employers should have an annual leave policy in place, Acas suggests that they could consider being more flexible during the tournament period; providing that employees understood that this would be a temporary, ‘special’ arrangement aimed to ensure that all, who wished to, could enjoy the tournament without breaching company procedures. Both parties ought to approach dealing with such requests sensibly and employers should remember that any, potentially liberal, approach adopted for the tournament may forge an expectation that it will be consistently applied in the future to other sporting events.

2. Sickness absence

Acas reminds both parties that sickness policies will still apply during this time. An employee should not fall foul of their employer’s sickness policies with sudden unauthorised absences. This would be particularly noticeable ahead of a match known that the employee wished to watch and were not permitted leave for, or following any post-match celebrations and a team’s success, they fail to attend work or arrive on time. Acas recommends that employers monitor levels of attendance during this time and remind employees that any unauthorised absence or patterns in absence could lead to formal disciplinary proceedings and potentially a yellow or red card for the employee concerned.

3. Internet and social media access/use at work

Acas forewarns employers that there could be an increase in the use of social media or sporting websites, including live streaming or coverage on monitors or personal devices, during the tournament and particularly during times when matches involving the home nations are scheduled. Acas suggests that all employers should have a clear policy regarding web usage in the workplace, which makes it expressly clear as to what is and is not acceptable. It may be worth reminding employees of this policy ahead of the tournament. If employers are monitoring internet usage, Acas suggests that, due to data protection regulations, they also inform employees that this is happening. Monitoring employees is a complex area of law (see my previous blog on this issue for more information).

4. Flexibility with working hours/shifts

Acas suggests that employers could agree to a more flexible working day, whereby employees potentially start later, finish later, or finish earlier and agree to make the time up. Acas suggests employers could permit employees to shift swap more readily as an alternative.

In many cases, it may not be possible for the employer to permit leave to everyone who requests it at the same time. There may be mandatory or necessary staffing requirements. Employers could offer to screen the matches or consider permitting employees to schedule their breaks to coincide with the matches. Employers could permit employees to watch the matches on monitors at their work station or allow them to listen to the radio. Although this could all be welcomed, employers ought to consider how to guard against abuse. It is also crucial to note that every employer will have different requirements and needs meaning that flexibility will be harder to achieve for some employers than others.

5. Being under the influence at work

Acas reminds employers and employees that, although it may be ‘customary’ or sociable to participate in drinking whilst watching the matches, anyone caught and found to be under the influence of alcohol at work, or caught drinking at work, could be subject to disciplinary procedures. Employers should not assume that employees are aware of this; especially if there is no clear policy. Employers should also consider whether they have in place a policy that manages employees suffering from hang-overs or similar effects. It may be worth reminding employees ahead of the tournament of the consequences of being under the influence at work and that disciplinary proceedings are likely to follow.

All of these issues can be difficult for employers to manage. Acas have attempted to limit the damage for employers and employees who are not prepared for the tournament and have suggested ways as to how to deal with passionate supporters who will watch their team at any cost. Although flexibility is encouraged by Acas where possible, employers must also be cautious that other sporting events may attract equal enthusiasm from other employees and employers should act consistently. In light of the recommendations from Acas, it is clear that employers and employees must communicate and plan with one another clearly and effectively.

If you have any questions regarding the impending tournament and its effect on your business or with regard to any of the issues above, please do contact myself or a member of the Employment team.