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OTS Academy – Avoid the red card with your employees during the World Cup

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Summer really seems to be here – heralding, among other traditional summer pursuits, several major sporting fixtures. The 2018 FIFA World Cup kicks off in Russia on 16th June; Tennis stars take to the grass courts of Wimbledon on 2nd July; the Tour de France starts pedalling on 7th July and the British Open Golf championships tee off on 19th July. Great sport and beautiful weather are a great combination – but not necessarily so great if you are trying to run a business, and your employees want to be watching sport… Add into that the forthcoming long school break, and summer can quickly become a real headache for employers. As UK employment lawyers we regularly support employers to deal requests for time off work – and unscheduled absences - over the summer period.

Time off work – a recap

Most workers (not just employees) have a statutory right to take paid holiday. The current statutory entitlement is to 5.6 weeks’ paid leave (28 days) for a full time worker. Employers can offer more than the statutory minimum as part of the contract of Employment. In terms of booking leave, again, there is a statutory notice period that the employee should give the employer. The employee should give the employer twice as much notice as the length of the proposed time off – so 2 weeks’ notice for a week’s holiday. The employer can also refuse to allow an employee time off at that particular time, by giving the same amount of notice as the time off work requested – so in the above example of 1 week’s holiday, the employer should tell the employer at least a week before the holiday is intended to start. Many employers will have an internal procedure for booking time off work, and for approving or turning down requests for holiday. If you need advice on Employment contracts in London, many top employment solicitors can help you.

Refusing time off work

Although an employer cannot refuse to allow an employee to take holiday, it is acceptable to ask the employee to take holiday at a different time to the time requested. Employers must consider all requests for holiday fairly, but there are circumstances when you can refuse a request for holiday at a particular time if

- The employee did not give you enough notice

- It is a particularly busy period for you

- Other people are already booked to take time off work and there won’t be enough cover in the office

It’s likely that people planning to travel to Russia for the World Cup, or who are planning to actually attend one of the other summer 2018 sporting evets will already have their time off work booked, but you may well find that you receive requests for time off at relatively short notice – if not because someone plans to travel, but simply to be able to watch a particular match on TV. Obviously, if your business can cope, then you should allow the holiday – but if you genuinely cannot sustain the time off work requested, you should feel confident to refuse.

Dealing with ‘sickness absence’

It’s a possibility that if you refuse to allow someone time off on a particular day, they may simply not come in to work and self-certify as ‘sick’. You may also find that some people are ‘sick’ on days which appear to align suspiciously with particular football games, tennis matches etc. You cannot automatically assume that someone is lying about the time off they have taken off – they may genuinely be ill and it may be a coincidence that the absence has fallen on the same day as a football match. On the other hand, if you are suspicious, you are entitled to investigate further. You can do thus initially though a return to work interview, and potentially using your disciplinary policy. As any Employment claims solicitors will advise you, it’s vital to tread carefully and follow a fair process if you are considering taking any action in these circumstances.

Take positive action

Rather than face disappointing employees by turning down requests for time off, or having to deal with disciplinary issues arising out of people simply ‘going sick’ rather than booking time off work, there are some steps that may help you manage possible absence issues over this busy period.

- Explain how much cover you will need over periods where time off is likely to be at a premium so that employees understand up front what your business needs are;

- Invite requests for time off – or at least ask people what they are planning - up front so you have a better idea of what you are looking at in terms of requests for holiday

- Consider running a ‘barter’ scheme so that employees can work out between themselves when they will take time off and when they will work to ensure sufficient cover at all ties

- Offer some temporary arrangements into the work place to allow sports fans to keep up with the action – perhaps allow a TV in the staff room so staff can watch during their break, or allow some flexibility in working hours on a temporary basis.

For more detailed advice on handling requests for time off work, contact our team of top employment solicitors. You can book an appointment today by calling 0203 959 9123 and be assured of receiving some of the best employment law advice in London.

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