Monday, February 15, 2010

 Employers in the tourism, hospitality and related sectors are well advised to seriously ponder several critical World Cup-related issues.
For one thing, with private and public schools to close during the World Cup, many employees, especially those who are parents, will want time off from work.
 In fact some public sector employers are encouraging their employees to take time off. They are actually incentivising their workforce to take annual leave by offering them an additional, ex-gratia, leave day for every four days of annual leave taken during June and July.
Employers taking the annual leave route should advise their employees opting for annual leave during this period to advise their managers accordingly and book their leave early to facilitate operational arrangements.
Companies operating in the tourism, hospitality, manufacturing, retail and related sectors are set to boom during the World Cup. Employers in these sectors are unlikely to incentivize their workforce to take annual leave during this period, and instead might consider offering flexible working hour arrangements to their workforce to allow employees the opportunity to watch matches at home or at theme parks or stadiums.
In such an event, employees’ productivity should be properly monitored to avoid abuse and to ensure that such practices are not counterproductive.
While flexibility could bolster workplace morale, employers must take care that they avoided allegations of discrimination. For example, employers must offer flexible working arrangements to both men and woman and not assume that only males would be interested in watching and attending matches. Also, employers should be careful not to give preference to South African fans over other nationalities.
Where employees are going to be required to be on site during matches, employers should consider making facilities available to employees to watch matches on their desktops and laptops via the internet.
Obviously regard must be had to the employer’s e-mail or internet policies. Exceptions should be communicated to employees, drawing their attention to the monitoring of their internet usage during this period; that any abuse of the company’s IT systems will not be tolerated, and if such abuse occurs it may result in disciplinary action being taken.
In some organisations the IT infrastructure might not be able to handle live audio streaming. If so, employees should be reminded that live audio streaming could compromise the company’s IT systems and, where applicable, is prohibited in terms of the company’s IT policy.
If the employer makes alternative arrangements for employees to watch matches, advise them – for example, big screen televisions being placed in communal areas.
Employers need to be aware that they are likely to face an increase in World Cup absenteeism, especially the day after big matches in the wake of late night celebrations.
Absenteeism runs contrary to an employee’s duty to render services to an employer. It is a form of misconduct that warrants disciplinary action. Even so, for absenteeism to constitute an offence, the element of fault must be present. Employers should advise their workforce that absences coinciding with World Cup games will be carefully scrutinised.
Tardiness is another common form of misconduct that is likely to occur during this period.
Although employees are genuinely likely to experience traffic delays when travelling to work on match days, some may take advantage of World Cup fever. Before taking disciplinary action, the employer should investigate the reasons for any tardiness.
Intoxication whilst on duty is yet another form of misconduct that might occur during this period. Employers are obliged to take reasonably practicable steps to prevent workplace accidents. Section 8 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act stipulates that it is an employer’s duty to provide and maintain, as far as reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health.
In cases where employees operate heavy machinery, dangerous equipment, or drive company cars, the risks flowing from being intoxicated whilst on duty could be disastrous.
Evidence of intoxication may be derived through breathalyser, urine or blood tests, as well as through observation. Where an employer has concluded contracts of employment with employees in terms of which they consent to random drug and alcohol testing, and where such testing will not infringe an employee’s right to privacy, such testing may be administered.
However, this is a tricky area of the law, and it is therefore advisable to seek advice prior to administering such tests in the workplace.
Essentially, staff should receive clear communication about their conduct and the organisation’s expectations, especially between 11 June and 11 July.
When formulating strategies to manage the infectious adrenalin of a soccer-crazy South Africa, employers need to be acutely aware of the impact on their business, while simultaneously dealing with the passion of the soccer fans among their workforce.