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World Cup flexible working policies run risk of discrimination claims

02 June 2010

Employers are running the risk of discrimination claims over their World Cup flexible working policies, employment lawyers have warned.

The warning follows a survey of 352 business leaders and HR professionals by law firm DLA Piper, which revealed that, while 51% of employers plan to offer flexible working arrangements for staff during England games, only 19% were considering offering the same conditions during matches which do not involve England.

Other survey results…

â- 35% will let staff swap shifts, 59% will allow early finishes, and 35% will allow late starts.
â- With many games being shown online, only 18% were reviewing internet usage policies to ensure staff knew the limits of accepted internet use.
â- 16% were reviewing their alcohol policies.

Kate Hodgkiss, an employment partner at DLA Piper, said policies favouring flexible working opportunities for English supporters could land employers with tribunal claims, and said they had to take a more "holistic approach".

"Flexible working is a useful thing to do in terms of ensuring staff morale, but if workers support other teams such policies] could amount to discrimination on the grounds of race or nationality," she said.

"Employers' flexibility is great and shouldn't be withheld, but it has to flex in a number of different directions, so they should be open to requests for flexible working on days when other non-England matches are scheduled. If requests are presented they should be given the same consideration as those for England supporters."

The survey also found 76% of respondents plan to offer no flexibility at all to staff who do not follow football, and only 22% will offer the same freedom around other sporting events, including Wimbledon.

Hodgkiss said this approach could mean "employee relations and engagement would take a knock".

"Football fever is enormous and there's a huge degree of pressure from employees about football," she said. "But employers need to recognise there are other sports in the sporting calendar, and the same flexibility shown to one set of supporters should be shown to another set of supporters."

She also warned that employers offering to flex staff hours could find themselves setting a precedent which then has to be repeated during subsequent sporting events.

"If you do it once, there will be pressure for employers to do it going forward, but each set of circumstances has to be viewed on its own merits," she added. "Different tournaments in different time zones have differing impacts on employers."

How to prepare for World Cup absences >>

How to be a World Cup winner >>

Tim De'Ath - eating for England >>

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