Last reviewed 9 June 2021

Opeyemi Ogundeji, researcher and employment law writer at Croner-i, explores some of the HR issues that may arise from the upcoming UEFA EURO 2020 Championship.

The much-anticipated UEFA European Football Championship was first scheduled to go ahead in 2020 but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. It is now due to begin on 11 June 2021 until 11 July 2021, but what are some of the HR issues that may arise?

Still being referred to as a 2020 tournament, the Championship this year will be a special one for many as they celebrate its 60th “birthday”. For this reason, the matches will not have just one host country but will instead be staged all over Europe, including at Wembley Stadium in London where the final will be held.

This means that employers will not only need to think about issues arising from employees seeking to travel abroad for the Championship matches but also those hoping to watch the final right here in England, depending on coronavirus restrictions at the time. It may be that employers allow their employees to take annual/unpaid leave for this (with Great Britain’s travel traffic light system in mind) meaning staff shortages will need to be addressed.

Handling holiday requests

Employers have flexibility to refuse annual leave requests, decide when leave can or cannot be taken, and how it is taken. With that in mind, employers may be happy to let their employees take periods of leave for the Championships matches, meaning they will need to think carefully about their business needs.

For an employer, its business needs will be a priority, as will its duty of care towards safeguarding its employees’ health and safety. Mental health has been a rising topic of discussion in the past year as the coronavirus makes lasting changes on how we, as human beings, interact. For this reason, and a number of other reasons, employers may feel inclined to grant leave requests for football enjoyment. However, when it comes to the business itself, employers will need to consider how an employee’s workload will be managed and how best to deal with multiple requests around the same time.

HR or line managers can assess the situation on a case-by-case basis to determine whether leave can be taken at any given time and by any number of people at once. They will also be able to determine the likelihood of work being reshuffled around the team when a member is on leave, or whether those going on leave can meet their deadlines before their holiday begins.

Embracing this period

Allowing a little fun in the workplace will foster commitment and loyalty to the business. Having a dedicated fun day with prizes or even assigning a country to each team/department and letting them decorate their area in their nation’s colours could be a good way to keep morale high in the workplace.

However, it is still important that employers continue to enforce their usual rules during this period. For example, if the business has strict rules around lateness, it should be made clear to staff that the Championship games is not a good reason for lateness. As well as lateness, it is important to heavily monitor sickness absence and speak with staff who seem to be taking more sickness leave than normal. Disciplinary action should be a last resort.

To help curb the number of sickness absences or lateness due to the Championship games, employers may wish to devise a way of keeping staff up to date with match scores. This does not mean allowing all staff unlimited use of the internet for the entire month, but employers could consider assigning one person to keep track of scores and disseminate the information to others. Other ways include screening matches in the workplace or allowing a radio — a licence may be needed to do this, however.

Furthermore, with the coronavirus pandemic in mind, it is important that employers continue to enforce social distancing measures for as long as they are legally obliged to do so.

Beware of discrimination

Even fun events in the workplace genuinely supported by employers can create some disharmony. This means making sure all teams are represented within the organisation and are given equal billing so that some staff are not made to feel less important than others. Having a zero-tolerance approach to behaviour that could be deemed as harassment will work towards discouraging potentially discriminatory behaviour.

Where staff are still working from home or are hybrid working, is it advisable that if a dip in productivity is observed — in a male colleague, for example — it is not assumed that this is because they are watching Championship matches. Making such an assumption, and/or dismissing an employee on that basis, without following a proper procedure could lead to claims of discrimination or unfair dismissal. Instead, line managers can manage the situation on a case-by-case basis, taking the employee’s specific situation into account — it may be that they are experiencing burnout or stress.

Next moves

However employers choose to handle the situation, it is worth implementing or updating policies and procedures relating to the issues raised. Whether it be policies on sickness absence, absence notification, annual leave, or internet usage, employers are advised to make sure all staff are aware of the rules so they know what the minimum standards are that they must adhere to. This way, they cannot allege that they did not know that they were breaking a rule.