Supporting The Lionesses Without Turning The Workplace Into A Safari

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Supporting The Lionesses Without Turning The Workplace Into A Safari

Key Contact: Claire Knowles

Author: Adam McGlynn

Following the outstanding performance of the Roses in the Netball world cup, the summer of England’s sporting success continues with the Lionesses performance in the FIFA Women’s World Cup. After a clean sweep in the group stages and a nail-biting victory against Nigeria, the formidable England team are entering the final stages of the tournament. With many of the quarter- and semi-finals taking place during working hours, employees and employers alike may be wondering about whether watching the matches live is permissible and what professional expressions of support look like. To avoid finding a red card on your desk, this article discusses the fouls and free kicks of workplace sportsmanship. If only Lioness forward Lauren James subscribed to our mailing list.

So, let’s assume that the business has not circulated a memo on watching a certain sporting event. As you might expect, the general principle is that an employee cannot unilaterally decide to watch a match instead of working. If staff are not working when they should be then this would a foul potentially resulting in a yellow card. This can be difficult to police in some cases though, especially with employees who work remotely. Some employees may continue working with a match on in the background or could listen to a live commentary through headphones rather than watching the match. Blurred lines like these examples require a more fact specific assessment and will ultimately come down to whether the attention and productivity of the employee is affected, although some businesses may be more or less strict depending on their culture.

To avoid ambiguity, businesses may want to circulate the rulebook before kick-off. A short memo can help set expectations and be an opportunity to showcase the business’ culture. Some questions business can address include:

  • Will employees be allowed to watch the match while working or not?
  • Does the business want to stream the match for staff, perhaps in a separate viewing room to not disturb those who don’t want to watch it?
  • If staff are allowed to watch matches, what are the conduct expectations?
  • If staff cannot watch the match during working hours, how will leave or shift swapping requests be handled if people would like time off?

While pro-active steps should minimise issues, fouls still happen from time to time. Perhaps there is a prolonged lunch break, false sickness absence, or evidence of reduced productivity that suggests non-compliance with the businesses approach to spectating. Perhaps employees were permitted to watch a match but noise levels escalated to distracting levels, staff consumed alcohol without permission, or staff did not return to work promptly after the match ended. Before considering disciplinary sanctions, it is important to conduct a reasonable investigation so that the disciplinary decision-maker can make an informed decision. If corroborated though, misconduct like the above examples could lead to disciplinary sanctions, especially where the business set out its expectations clearly beforehand.

Sport is a fantastic means of unifying people through celebration and shared passions. However, when excitement spikes and teams are pitted against each other, there is always the possibility of well-meaning ‘banter’ crossing into harassment territory. Nationality falls within the protected characteristic of race and so employers and employees should be mindful of potentially discriminatory behaviour. Despite the title of this article being unapologetically biased towards the team I support, employers will also need to ensure that policies do not unfairly favour one employee’s national team over another. For example, if staff supporting the Lionesses are allowed to watch the England matches then staff supporting other national teams should be allowed to watch those equivalent matches.

For more employment law play-by-play, or support with policies, contact our Employment team at Acuity Law.

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