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‘Tis the season – World Cup soccer has returned, and so too may absences

During previous World Cups, many employees including myself battled with the World Cup Flu. Well, employers should prepare for another outbreak starting June 12, 2014, when FIFA World Cup Brazil begins, and will go on for about a month.

empty-officeAs any soccer fan knows, the FIFA World Cup games are played live during the day, thus during work hours. Not surprisingly, studies show that absenteeism soars during special and major sporting events such as the World Cup.

Employers may be concerned about unusually high rates of absenteeism or lateness in the office, but also time theft in the case where employees show up for work but are actually accessing games online through their work computers or smartphones or tablets. This means that employees may be effectively absent while at work, engaging in “virtual absenteeism”.

What can employers do?

There is no vaccine for World Cup Flu, and there’s not much that can be done once a person catches it. Since there is simply no cure once the employee has contracted the illness, employers must be able to recognize the symptoms, including, a desperate need to watch as many games as possible, the inability to talk about anything but soccer, devotion to at least one team, and the inability to sit still or speak to anyone during a game.

The most disturbing symptom is that, at the height of the flu, judgment may become impaired, and a person may be tempted to call in sick and miss work to watch a game. I confess: I am a passionate soccer fan, and I have already contracted the World Cup Flu (it does not take long to become full blown). I completely understand both sides here.

In my experience, the only way to be both a dedicated employee and enthusiastic soccer fan is to watch the repeats after work during the week. Alternatively, I record the games and watch at my convenience. But this means that soccer enthusiasts must make sure that they do not talk to anyone about sports results or watch, listen to, or read any news until they get home to watch the game(s). Employers may need to implement a policy called, “Don’t discuss soccer results in the office” and encourage employees to watch the games after work.

Employers could also encourage employees to use their unused vacation time or any accumulated time in lieu of overtime to enjoy the most exciting matches live. Alternatively, employers could implement a flex-time policy for employees, at least for the most critical games near the end of the tournament. Employers may be able to dodge the problem of having employees reach the height of World Cup Flu by trying some of these strategies, instead of having to discipline employees for absenteeism, lateness or time theft.

Of course, employers may find that the rate of physical or virtual absenteeism is out of control and can only be stopped by disciplining employees for unauthorized absences. If so, employers are recommended to use progressive discipline and start with a warning and escalate from there. It is important to remember that any discipline must be proportional to the misconduct. It is important to remember that you would need to monitor and track the employee’s absence, productivity and work hours to be able to do anything.

Employers are recommended to adopt a flexible and fair approach when allowing time off as a business perk, and when disciplining employees for absences related to World Cup sickness.

Employers should prepare – and I’m warning you now – the Women’s World Cup soccer is in Canada next year!

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Christina Catenacci

Christina Catenacci, BA, LLB, LLM, was called to the Ontario Bar in 2002 and has since been a member of the Ontario Bar Association. Christina worked as an editor with First Reference between February 2005 and August 2015, working on publications including The Human Resources Advisor (Ontario, Western and Atlantic editions), HRinfodesk discussing topics in Labour and Employment Law. Christina has decided to pursue a PhD at the University of Western Ontario beginning in the fall of 2015. Read more
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