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#Comeonengland: It’s Coming Home!

England are now preparing for the big game on Saturday, with hopefully more big games to follow, so how will the Euros affect work?

Yes, some businesses may be worried about productivity. Sporting occasions can sometimes trigger unplanned absences, and if employees are visiting pubs and meeting friends, then this could cause covid issues and hangovers!

No employer will want staff to put themselves at risk of covid or risk a covid outbreak at work, and depending on the nature of the business, hangovers at work could be a health and safety issue, especially if the employee’s job involves machinery.

At the time of writing, the next England match thankfully falls on Saturday, but some matches have been held during the usual 9-5 working hours. Some managers might be worried about staff calling in sick to watch matches or after matches, especially as many people are currently working remotely, but overall there is great excitement around football at the moment.

Against this backdrop, employers should recognise the benefits of being flexible. This could boost their brand – we’ve seen so many negative reports of “culture issues” at various companies recently and during the pandemic.

Football is a team sport, the success of the England team is in many ways an inspiring example of teamwork. For workplaces, it could be a team building opportunity, giving staff something to talk about and bond over, especially since so many people have felt isolated during the pandemic. If people are still working well remotely, then showing some flexibility is likely to be a benefit. Employees can make up time before or after matches. They could take holiday. If employees are treated well then this is likely to stamp out the risk of dishonest behaviour.

Although employers are not legally obliged to provide employees with time off to watch sporting events, and employees have no legal right to insist on being able to watch matches during working hours, employers should still listen to and engage with any requests for flexibility to allow this. If a request for flexibility is unreasonably declined, then an employee may decide to raise a grievance.

Employers should be aware of potential discrimination issues that may arise if they are offering flexibility around certain matches and not others, if for example, if time off is only permitted for England football games only.

If employers have concerns around sickness absence or unauthorised absence then they should circulate their policies on this as soon as possible and ensure that they are widely communicated to staff. Any policy should be applied fairly and consistently. If an employer is concerned that the Euros will lead to unauthorised absences then it may be appropriate to circulate a warning in relation to this, but be wary of being overly heavy handed.

Employers should also think about what steps can be taken to maintain productivity during the football season, particularly if several staff members could be absent from work at the same time.

There have in the past been various employment tribunal cases regarding dismissals connected to comments made by staff on social media, and many footballers have unfortunately experienced racist comments online. If an employer is concerned about social media use by staff during the Euros then it may be appropriate to circulate its policy as well as a warning to staff that social media comments which are bullying, harassing or discriminatory in nature will not be tolerated.

Ultimately, the Euros could benefit staff, taking some time out together to watch the football could be an enjoyable team building exercise, and could boost morale, especially if employees are still working from home, and have had little chance to interact with or spend time with other colleagues. A staff sweepstake could also be a good way to get everyone involved.

If staff are physically back at work then this could provide a valuable chance for colleagues to socialise in person when they may otherwise not have been able to do so for some time, but the employer is likely to need to TV facilities and a TV licence. Employers should also be mindful of the issues that potentially could arise if alcohol is consumed during the matches.

Danielle Parsons, an employment lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, told The Sun: "Employers are looking at more ways to retain and attract the top talent, and after the year that we've had the football is a really good topic for people to bond over".”