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Partner and Head of Family Law, Rugby
Well apart from England’s very untimely exit, the RWC has been a huge success. There have been some thrilling encounters (who will ever forget Japan’s triumph over the Springboks). However you’d be forgiven if you think the All Blacks have been triumphant, the real winner has to be the UK economy. It is estimated that the World Cup has brought nearly £1billion of revenue, not bad earnings for 48 games of rugby over 6 weeks. But what is the RWC going to cost you as an employer?
Hopefully you survived the travel chaos with as little disruption as possible. I expect that you will be breathing a sigh of relief that your staff are not telling you that they will be in late/leaving early to make it to nursery before the travel rush. I am sorry to say but your problems are only about to get much worse (and more complicated).
One of the great successes of this RWC has been the amount of rugby fans that have emerged from their armchair, great for the grass roots of the game, however the problem is now everyone wants to play rugby. The majority of people won’t think this is a bad thing, but employers may beg to differ…
With training starting at 7pm for two nights a week (usually a Tuesday and Thursday – I only know as that’s where my husband has been for the last 12 years) and your employees not due to finish work until 6pm, how on earth are they going to get to their training session on time? With a flexible working request that’s how!
Previously flexible working was a benefit of having a family. Now, anyone (provided that they are an employee and have over 26 weeks service) can make a flexible working request. The benefit is a happy and motivated workforce, but what happens when you have two conflicting requests, one for childcare reasons and one to get to rugby, football, marathon (you get the picture) training on time? Now, the childcare based request doesn’t get priority over a request for any other reason, so if someone wants to have every Wednesday afternoon off to go fishing, then you have to deal with that request on its merits. How are you going to deal with such request and handle any conflicting requests and upsets (and dare I say grievances) when one is turned down? Many employers have not updated their flexible working policies, and you need to! You need to clearly set out how you will handle requests, particularly conflicting ones, make sure that requests will be dealt with on a first come first served basis. You may also want to have a discussion with employees who have made conflicting requests to see whether some compromise and adjustment by all of them can be made, which may mean all of the requests can be accommodated in part and more importantly, you have happy employees as a result. Overall the requirement is for you to deal with requests (both formal and informal ones) in a reasonable manner, it will be important for you to maintain a consistent approach when dealing with requests so as to avoid complaints from disgruntled employees and allegations of unfair treatment or worse, favourable treatment. If you don’t, then don’t say that I didn’t warn you!
Your problems don’t end there…come next week there will be a lot of people playing rugby who have not played in a very long time, or never even played before. There are bound to be injuries, resulting in absences from work, either off sick or for medical appointments. Of course this doesn’t just apply to rugby players; there are the MAMILs and weekend warriors that are prone to injuries too. How are you going to deal with their sickness absence? Employers often end up footing the bill for their employee’s hobbies, so what can you do to protect yourselves?
You need to make sure that you have a comprehensive sickness absence policy (that you enforce) that deals with how employees should report absences, self-certification, how unauthorised absence will be dealt with, sick pay, requirement to obtain a doctors note for sickness lasting more than 7 days and most importantly a sickness absence meetings procedure. This will give you the right to take action (possibly disciplinary proceedings) against employees if they have been absent due to unreported absences, there are issues that have arisen that require further investigation and or if they have been absent for more than a specified number of days. Remember to keep an accurate record of sickness absence, as long of course as you have the relevant consents under the Data Protection Act to process personal sensitive data. You could also consider introducing private health insurance for your key employees, yes it may be an additional cost to the business, but it will mean that employees get treatment quicker than they may otherwise do, thus returning to work quicker and not spend quite as much time out of work attending medical appointments, which can only be a good thing for your business.
Whilst you do not want to ban your employees from having a past time and doing what they want to do in their free time, there has to be a balance if their hobbies have an impact on their work, and ultimately your business, so put in place a sickness absence policy, make sure it is clearly communicated and then follow it. Make your policies and procedures work for you!