Euro 2024 – a guide to the key employment law issues

Football fans at a major tournament

Emma Butterworth

Gareth Southgate won’t be the only manager grappling with personnel issues this summer. In this Viewpoint feature Emma Butterworth, partner in Harrison Drury’s employment and HR team, looks at four of the key issues for employers to manage.

Managing staff holidays and unauthorised absences during Euro 2024

Many football fans will have already booked holiday to either travel to Germany or to watch the games from home without the worry of missing the action because of working a shift or having to turn up to work the morning after a game.

However, issues often arise where holiday has been requested but has not been agreed and yet individuals still take that time off. This is unauthorised leave and can be treated as such if there is a clear audit trail showing that the request has not been authorised and, better still, a warning that if they take that time off it will be unauthorised and unpaid. 

On the individual’s return to work it is possible to investigate this and deal with it in line with disciplinary procedures and, depending on the circumstances, for disciplinary action to be taken.

Issues can also arise when more than one individual seeks the same time off and the organisation cannot grant all requests. The easy solution is to make it clear in any leave policies that in those situations requests will be dealt with on the basis of ‘first-come, first-served’. 

However, if some employees are seeking that same time off for specific reasons such as caring responsibilities, organisations must consider those requests in line with current statutory rights and follow the correct processes before declining such requests. 

Before the Euros start is the best time for organisations to ensure their staff are aware of annual leave policies and procedures and arrangements for making requests for leave.

Dealing with sick leave during the Euros

A LinkedIn poll by People Management earlier this year found that almost a third of people admitted to pulling a sickie. This will inevitably increase as the tournament starts and the individual’s team of choice progresses* through the competition (*let’s be positive!).

Sickness where there is a pattern, such as on the day of a game or the following day, may be sufficient to arouse suspicion and allow the organisation to speak to the individual and find out why they were absent. The same approach ought to be taken if holidays have been declined and an individual calls in sick on the same dates. Caution should of course be exercised to ensure that any conversations are non-accusatory as there may have been a genuine reason for the absence. 

If concerns remain, either because an inadequate explanation for the absence has been given, or there is some evidence that the reason cited was in fact untrue (many individuals have been caught out by posting to their social media accounts when they were in fact claiming to be ‘unwell’) then it is possible to take formal disciplinary action in line with policies and procedures. 

Inappropriate use of social media during the tournament

While the last Euros may be remembered for how well England did, they are also unfortunately remembered for the vile tweets and social media messages sent to, or referencing, stars including Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho. 

It is worth remembering that such behaviour may be considered a criminal offence and can be reported to the police to deal with. They also represent very serious issues for organisations to deal with, even if they are sent using an individual’s own social media platforms. So what can organisations do?

Organisations should regularly review and update social media policies and invest in an ongoing training programme to ensure that staff know what is considered an acceptable use of social media (even if it is their own social media and not operated by the organisation).

If issues arise, an organisation must ensure they are dealt with promptly, particularly as other members of staff may be impacted, and the reputation of the organisation may be at stake. This means having effective investigation and disciplinary policies and processes in place.

What about incidents outside the workplace?

While it is hoped that those who decide to watch the games behave appropriately, there have examples of individuals being caught engaging in anti-social behaviour or football violence. Often they have been identified by television cameras, or by fellow spectators recording footage and uploading it to social media.

Even if that behaviour takes place outside of the workplace it can be considered as part of an internal disciplinary process. Depending on the nature of the behaviour, it may even be considered to be a criminal offence. 

Employers must make clear to staff the standards expected of them and it is possible to take disciplinary action against individuals whose behaviour is shown to fall short of expectations, even where that behaviour is outside of the workplace.

Many organisations do take the opportunity to hold staff or client events so that the games can be enjoyed in a more sociable environment. This can often be off site at a venue that has been hired. Again, organisations must make it clear what behaviours are expected of individuals whether or not clients may be present and that behaviours that fall below the standards expected could lead to disciplinary action taking place.

Harrison Drury has a dedicated employment and HR team that can support your business. If you have any queries or concerns ahead of, or during, the tournament. Please contact Emma Butterworth on 0161 513 8181.