UK: Foul Play: When Workers 'Kick Off'

Last Updated: 18 July 2012
Article by Will Walsh

More than half a million people in Britain turn up to work with a hangover and, during Euro 2012 and possibly also during the Olympics, this figure is likely to soar. The knock-on effects of football or sport mania can cause huge headaches for employers. In the second of three articles covering the 2012 summer of sport employment issues, lawyers in our Employment Team answer some questions which you may be faced with.

The Olympics and sport mania is likely to have knock-on effects for employers, especially if the effects of alcohol and frustration lead to violence inside or outside of the workplace. Will Walsh answers some of the most frequent questions. 

What should I do if an employee comes to work under the influence of alcohol after watching a match?

If an employee comes into work under the influence of alcohol or you suspect that they might be, you may suspend them pending disciplinary action, particularly if their presence in the workplace might present a risk to their health and safety or that of their colleagues. Suspension pending disciplinary action would normally be on full pay, however, you may consider treating that day as sickness absence or requiring the employee to take it as annual leave.

What about if post-match frustrations turn to violence in the workplace?

Any act of violence committed by an employee in the work place is likely to constitute gross misconduct. Such an employee should be immediately suspended pending an investigation into the incident. The manager conducting the investigation should speak to witnesses and obtain statements where possible. Then, depending on the evidence, the employee should be invited to attend a disciplinary hearing. A decision to dismiss should only be taken after the employee has been allowed to state his or her case at a disciplinary hearing.

An employee dismissed on grounds of gross misconduct should be given the right to appeal against that decision. However you do not have to wait for the outcome of that appeal before the dismissal can take effect. A subsequent successful appeal would just mean that they are reinstated and they would be entitled for their backdated pay for the intervening period.

What if one of my employees is arrested and charged with an offence following an incident after a match?

It is permissible to dismiss an employee if they have committed an act of misconduct outside the workplace provided that the conduct complained of is likely to affect the continued employment relationship. The ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures states that where an employee is charged with or convicted of a criminal offence not related to work this is not normally a reason for disciplinary action.

You must establish the facts of the case and decide whether or not the offence is serious enough to warrant invoking the disciplinary procedure. You should consider what effect the charge or conviction has on the employee's suitability to do the job and the employee's relationship with you as the employer, work colleagues and customers. Alternatively, it may be that adverse publicity surrounding the issue could bring your organisation into disrepute. The types of criminal offence that are most likely to affect the employment relationship are those involving dishonesty, violence and sexual offences. The fairness of a dismissal in each case will depend on the nature of the employee's job in relation to the type of offence.

In certain circumstances, where a criminal investigation is ongoing, it may be appropriate to wait for such an investigation to be concluded before taking the decision to dismiss. However, this may not always be the case. The issues the police would consider in terms of a prosecution are different to those you would need to consider as an employer when deciding whether or not to take disciplinary action.

What about for matches that happen during working hours - can I stop my employees watching a match on the internet when they should be working?

Yes you can. Before the competition starts, you should make sure that you remind your staff of any policy on Internet use already in place. If you don't have such a policy in place, it is important that this is done as soon as possible. If you don't have time to put a comprehensive policy in place before Euro 2012 and the London Olympics, consider sending a reminder to staff by email in the meantime.

Some research suggests that productivity actually increases when employees are feeling good about their national team. Therefore, allowing some Internet use, while clamping down on inappropriate or excessive use, might strike the balance needed to ensure high morale without damaging your business.

If you have employees who are acting in breach of your Internet policy, this should be stated in the policy to be a disciplinary offence and would need to be dealt with in accordance with your disciplinary procedure. You should check that your list of what constitutes misconduct and/or gross misconduct in your disciplinary rules includes misuse of the internet and breach of your Internet policy. Most importantly, any disciplinary action must be applied consistently and fairly.

Look out for the Employment Team's third article, which will deal with discriminatory issues in the workplace arising out of the 2012 summer of sport. In the meantime, click to read our first article – Summer Sport Skivers.

This document is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this document.

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