LAST week kicked off a month-long game of cat and mouse between line managers and their football fanatic staff.
For many personnel managers tomorrow's encounter between England and Tunisia in the World Cup is a crunch match. Employers will have to be on top of their game as they face an unusually high level of Monday morning absenteeism and a deluge of spurious requests for extended lunch hours.
A survey carried out on behalf of the Institute of Personnel and Development shows that those workers banking on a relaxed approach from their bosses are in for a shock. Only 14 per cent of employers in England will allow workers special time off to listen to the match on the radio. This compares with 20 per cent in Scotland.
Says the IPD's Melissa Compton-Edwards: "It's highly probable that absenteeism will rise during the World Cup as football fans decide to take a sickie or two. Employers who were burnt during Euro 96 may react by tightening up their absence control policies."
Management at the Ford Motor Company in Dagenham are determined to make tomorrow business as usual. Says Ford's Kay Francis, manager of plans and programmes: "There are employees who have booked a day's vacation to view the match and that's fine. But we will be expecting all the other employees to turn up for work as normal."
Those who do chance it and take odd days off sick to watch tomorrow's and other important fixtures could find themselves facing disciplinary measures.
Says Ms Compton-Edwards: "They could face return to work interviews and they will have to have good reasons why they have taken sick leave."
If the days-off without permission correspond with the England or Scotland matches then workers may find they have a prima facie disciplinary case to answer, warns the Institute.
Ford won't even be letting their staff listen to matches on the radio. Explains Ms Francis: "We think that would be dangerous in a dynamic working environment and also it wouldn't be conducive to the high standard of quality that our customers are entitled to expect from our cars."
If that seems harsh spare a thought for employees of some City firms who will work through the entire match while their senior partners will be watching the game with clients in specially hired restaurants.
Sarah Lamont, head of employment at Bristol solicitors Veale Wasbrough, warns employees who do take the law in their own hands risk losing their jobs. She says: "Clocking, or leaving the workplace without permission and recording hours which have not been worked is well recognised as serious or 'gross' misconduct, which can in certain circumstances, justify instant dismissal."
She says all cases must be treated on their merits. "Telephoning a World Cup hotline to find out the latest score may elicit merely a smile of complicity in one firm while leading to dismissal for an operator in one of the emergency services," explains Ms Lamont.
But the World Cup needn't be a battle of wills and wits between football- mad workers and killjoy bosses. Ms Lamont urges employers to use the event to build teamwork among staff.
Ford is sympathetic to its workforce's plight. Says Ms Francis: "We can understand that people want to know how England have fared. What we will be doing is pre-setting our video recorders at home and advising our troops on the line to do the same."
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