The Rugby World Cup has just kicked off in Japan and excitement is mounting around trying to predict the likely winner. Can anyone stop the All Blacks? How will the Northern Hemisphere teams’ performance fair against their Southern Hemisphere counterparts? Who knows?

At work it can be great fun and create good talking points.  But wait… not everyone likes rugby (do they?) And with some matches kicking off during the normal UK working day, will this be a distraction for those fans wanting to watch? Even for the matches taking place in the evening, UK time, the talking points from last night’s game can take over the morning after.

Sporting events can harness energy, enjoyment and plenty of banter.  That’s the upside.  But inevitably there’s a downside.  And that’s where it’s a good idea, as an employer, to be prepared.

There’s a difference between fans and fanatics.  And the latter can cause you major headaches.  Start thinking through now what you can allow and what you can’t. Make sure that everyone knows these expectations, then there’s every chance that your team can enjoy the month and you won’t have any HR disasters.

Here’s our thoughts on the subject:

Offer time off for work-time matches on a first come, first served basis.  You know how many people you can afford to have off at any one time.  If there are arguments, try for compromise.  But if that doesn’t work, you’ll have to let staff know that you’ll have the final say.

And that leads on to sudden attacks of absence.  If someone hasn’t been allowed time off and goes off sick, there’s a good chance that there’s nothing physically wrong, other than an inability to move from the TV.  Make it clear in advance that any such sudden absence will be considered unauthorised.  And the same goes for a phone call first thing in the morning related to the previous night’s match, where alcohol was probably involved.  Don’t be afraid to make it clear that you won’t view such behaviour kindly.  (If either of these situations should occur, do be sure that you follow your own absence policy, to avoid any discrimination)

Would you consider having TV or a computer screen available for big games?  If so, you’ll have to think about how to handle the time for employees who aren’t interested in rugby.  How about flexi-time, on a one-off special occasion? Are you happy for staff to watch matches on their mobile devices whilst working? This may, or may not be appropriate, depending on the nature of the work they do and your company culture.

If you have a formal dress code, are you going to allow red, white and blue during England games?  This may be a step too far, especially where customers are involved.  But it could also show that you are an employer that can relax and enjoy the fun of the occasion.  Most important thing – make sure that your staff know. Don’t forget, if you have a multi-national workforce, are you going to allow everyone’s home shirts?

Hopefully you will have no cause to challenge any kind of xenophobic behaviour – this is the Rugby World Cup, after all.  But you can make it clear before the matches begin that words matter. Whilst healthy banter can be beneficial, there’s a line where friendly rivalry becomes discriminatory.  If you point this out beforehand, and again refer to wanting everyone to enjoy the occasion, you should be able to avoid any kind of disciplinary activity.

Overall, your message should be positive.  Emphasise what is possible but make it clear where lines will be drawn. The more you can meet people halfway, the more they will appreciate your ethos on these one-off occasions.

This information is intended as a general overview and discussion of the subjects dealt with. The information provided here was accurate as of the day it was posted; however, the law may have changed since that date. This information is not intended to be, and should not be used as, a substitute for taking legal, HR or benefits advice in any specific situation. Petaurum Solutions is not responsible for any actions taken or not taken on the basis of this information. Please refer to the full terms and conditions on our website.