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When cup fever strikes, a reasonable attitude can cut "sickies"

THE DOMINION POST - WEDNESDAY 21 SEPTEMBER 2011


The Rugby World Cup is a great, once-in-a-lifetime event for New Zealand. No-one can predict the journey the All Blacks will take, hopefully, into the finals.

As we have seen before there is never any certainty in sport, particularly the Rugby World Cup.

The Rugby World Cup will have its benefits, but from an employment perspective there are also challenges.

Employers will face challenges during the World Cup in at least two respects. First, many workers may want to watch the games and take “sickies” or some other excuse not to show up. Workers may head out to sports bars for long periods or just go home. They may use modern technology to follow games and scores online during the working day. Fortunately, many games are at weekends, so the disruption to work may be minimised.

Second, Wellington will be “party zone” for much of the time. This will inevitably affect work, with employees hung over and at further risk of taking “sickies”.

Employers are well advised to plan for the Rugby World Cup and to show some co-operation and tolerance. A reasonable attitude by employers is likely to result in a reasonable response from their employees. Where workers want to make the most of the occasion, it would be best for them to be honest and take some leave.

There are, of course, remedies open to an employer where people go too far. If people are absent from work allegedly because they are sick, but in truth are absent because they are watching sport, they can be dismissed for dishonesty after a fair dismissal process.

Where workers come to work under the influence, they can be sent home or disciplined.

Where workers are off work because they are suffering from a hangover, but say it is because of some other ailment, again, they could be disciplined or even dismissed. Proof of the cause of the illness would be an important factor.

In 2006 James McNeill, an electrician, phoned his employer, Solid Energy, and advised that he had hayfever and would be unable to work his midnight shift. The following morning, at 7am, he went out to sea for a two-day fishing trip 80 kilometres offshore and out of cellphone range. James said he was too ill to go to work, but apparently was not too ill to go fishing.

When McNeill, who was also a delegate for the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, returned to work he became involved in representing another employee who had been absent without leave to attend the same fishing trip.

McNeill did not tell his employer he himself had been on the same trip. When Solid Energy found out, it conducted an inquiry. The outcome was that McNeill was dismissed for serious misconduct involving falsely saying he had been too ill to work.

The Employment Relations Authority decided that McNeill’s cavalier attitude to his obligations meant the employer’s trust had been “seriously compromised” and that reinstatement was “totally impracticable”. The process followed could have been improved and a modest award was made for that.

The Rugby World Cup is a great event for New Zealand and a time when I hope everyone will enjoy themselves without pushing the boundaries and engaging in misconduct.

If employers face up to the challenges the tournament poses openly and are reasonable, they should get a good response from their workers. Dealing with the matter honestly and openly is the best approach.

Cullen - The Employment Law Firm is one of only eleven law firms in New Zealand approved to provide employment law services to Government and the public sector.

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