Sickies set to soar during World Cup

2006

With little more than a month to go until the kick off of the World Cup in Germany, employers are looking at how they can best avoid employees taking a rash of "sickies" during England and other matches.

British retail chain Asda has this week told its 150,000 employees that they may take one or two weeks off in the month starting June 9, the starting date for the tournament.

Fans can watch matches on TV or even travel to Germany, Asda said.

Requests from employees will be handled on a first come, first served basis, depending on the needs of each store and department, it added.

Staff on duty during the tournament will also be able to request shift swaps, extended breaks and occasional days off to watch matches.

The move comes as research has suggested that Britain will see a surge in sickies, as high as one in seven young men, when the tournament kicks off workplace issues.

Consultancy Croner said 13 per cent of men, compared with only four per cent of women (among 2,191 people polled) said they had called in sick to watch a match, or to recover from match-related drinking the night before.

The younger generation were the worst offenders with a staggering 16 per cent of men and women aged between 18 and 29 admitting to taking unauthorised absence for a major sporting event.

With many matches due to fall during working hours during this tournament, employers who provided TV access at work could avoid the problem of absences and could actually benefit from improved employee relations and boosted morale by helping staff enjoy the World Cup season, argued Croner.

It has urged employers to consider allowing employees to watch matches at work, but has also recommended that they should update their annual leave policies to include special advice for employees on the procedure for taking time off for sporting events, to serve as a reminder to employees who are thinking of bunking off to the pub.

Richard Smith, employment services director at Croner, said: "Absence management always features high on employers' lists of concerns around major spectator events like Wimbledon, the Olympics, and of course the imminent World Cup.

"We're quite surprised by such a high proportion of people admitting they are feigning illness so they can enjoy a major sporting event, but we are advising our clients on how they can actually turn this to their advantage," he added.

"Rather than worry about employees being struck down with 'World Cup-itis' on match days, they should be thinking of how temporarily relaxing the rules can have positive returns for their business.

"We're strongly advising employers to provide on-site TV access to important games and to encourage employees who wish to enjoy alcohol during games to request annual leave around match days. Annual leave policies should be updated with clear guidelines issued to all employees, emphasising that unauthorised absence could lead to disciplinary action," he said.

Employers needed to make sure their workers were clear about their rules around granting of annual leave.

"Even employers who decide to televise games should be prepared for a bout of annual leave requests and be ready to deal with them," said Smith.

"In most cases it's impractical for a business to allow a large proportion of the workforce to take annual leave at one time, so employers may refuse annual leave requests on the grounds of the business's needs. It's therefore essential to have a fair system in place for granting annual leave, such as random selection or on a first-come-first-served basis.

"Even though it's likely that younger males will be first in line for holiday at this time, employers must ensure it is granted fairly, otherwise they could be guilty of sex discrimination," he added..

"It's worth remembering that not all staff will be interested in watching World Cup games, so we'd also suggest that employers who decide to provide TV access consider a similar perk for those staff who aren't fans, who may feel left out," he concluded.

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