Rugby World Cup 2019: a survival guide for employers

September 18, 2019


Friday 20 September – the kick off of the Rugby World Cup in Japan.

An exciting six weeks for rugby fans, it is important that employers are aware of the work-related issues which could arise during the tournament, which runs from 20 September until 2 November. For example, whilst some employees may have genuine reasons for being absent from work, in other cases it may be a case of “Rugby World Cup fever” as opposed to genuine sickness absence. Also, because of the time difference in Japan, many matches are scheduled to start at either 8am or 11am GMT on work days and weekends; so many employers are likely to encounter some level of World Cup related disruption in the workplace during the tournament.

Therefore, if you’re an employer you should check that your sickness and absence policies and procedures are up to date and comply with current employment legislation ahead of the tournament.  Make sure also that your staff are fully aware of your policies, including your reporting procedures in the event of a sudden illness. If your policies provide that you may conduct a “return to work” interview after any period of absence make sure your employees are reminded of that fact. Calling in the morning after the night before is one thing, but the prospect of having to sit down in a meeting to discuss their absence may deter some employees from taking “sickies” in the first place. 

Here are some further top tips that you may wish to implement ahead of the tournament:


  1. Consider how flexible you can be with your workforce. Could you adjust your working times on match days or allow longer lunch breaks if staff can make up hours at other times? If you do decide to do this, make sure that your staff know that this is a temporary measure during the World Cup and not a permanent arrangement.

  2. You should be careful of any “workplace banter” between staff and ensure that friendly rivalry doesn’t end up going one step too far. In order to reduce the risk of potential grievances, you should review your anti-harassment and bullying policy and make sure your staff are aware of what behaviour will not be accepted at work.

  3. Ensure that your employees know how much notice is required for them to give to book their annual leave. However, if you find that there’s already a number of employees off during or after matches then you won’t be able to grant annual leave to everyone. It would be advisable to adopt a “first come first served” approach, ensuring that a fair and consistent approach is taken with all requests for annual leave.

  4. Review your internet, phone, social media and email policies. You are likely to experience an increase in website usage whilst those employees that are interested in rugby news, social networking sites and World Cup related discussion between friends take advantage of those avenues whilst the tournament is on.

  5. You may be successful in deterring staff from taking any World Cup related sickness absence, but this might result in an unproductive workforce following match days. Consider whether you should have a policy to deal with hungover and/or unproductive employees in these circumstances. If so, consistency across all employees is vital.

  6. If you do consider that employees are taking sickness absences which coincide with match days and you consider that they are not suffering from a genuine illness, you should follow your sickness absence policy and obtain as much information from the employee as to the reasons for their absence. You should also monitor their sickness absence patterns. If you have clear evidence, or a pattern emerges that an employee is on sickness absence after certain matches, you should consider invoking your disciplinary procedures against them as quickly as possible after you establish your genuine concerns.



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