An employer’s guide to dealing with World Cup fever

By Harrison Drury

04 Jun 2014

Do I have to give staff time off to watch the World Cup? This is a question we always get asked around the time of major sporting events.

By Roger Spence, Harrison Drury.

There seems to be a myth, often perpetuated by football fans themselves, that employers have an obligation to give staff time off to watch major football matches.

This is not forgetting TV licensing rules on watching matches in the workplace, or other significant risks to your business, such as staff grievances and discrimination claims. Here is our guide to surviving World Cup fever in the workplace:

Think twice before enforcing a blanket ban on staff watching matches

While there is no obligation to give staff time off for any reason associated with the World Cup, a blanket ban is likely to be counter-productive and damaging for employee relations. The World Cup could actually present a valuable opportunity to engage with staff and improve team morale by allowing staff to watch or listen to matches, or obtain updates on the progress of games during working hours.

Have a plan in place to deal with requests for time off

Most businesses will be familiar with planning for periods where multiple staff members want to take leave at the same time, such as over the summer, or during religious festivals. Planning for major sporting events like the World Cup should be no different. A proactive approach will help you identify staff who are likely to want time off and those that aren’t.

Remember it’s not all about England

If you have numerous nationalities in your workplace it’s also worth bearing in mind the potential for inappropriate or offensive banter during the World Cup. If you overhear such remarks, or you receive a complaint, you should deal with this in the normal way using your grievance or disciplinary procedures.

Deal decisively with employee absence following World Cup matches

With the time zone differences, some matches in Brazil kick off as late as 11pm, so having employees calling in sick the next day, or turning up for work intoxicated, may be a consequence.

Making it known that you will require a fit note or other medical evidence, whatever the length of the absence, may act as a sufficient deterrent. You should also carry out an immediate return to work interview, but take care not to jump to conclusions. If appropriate, progress the matter using your disciplinary procedure.

Beware of TV licensing laws

If you are allowing staff to watch matches in work, during work hours, bear in mind the impact this could have on your internet speeds. If a significant number of employees stream a match to their computer or other devices it could cause your internet to grind to a halt or impact on productivity levels.

Make sure you’re covered for World Cup parties

If you're organising an event for staff, either at the workplace or externally, staff should be reminded of the behaviour expected of them. If necessary, a warning not to drink too much alcohol should also be issued. Such events are considered an extension of the workplace and you may well remain liable for your employees' conduct.

Have a policy for allowing flags and shirts in the workplace

Deciding whether to allow employees to wear football shirts to work, or put up flags and banners, is largely up to you as the employer, so long as you pay regard to any health and safety issues. It is advisable to have some guidelines on what you deem to be appropriate and acceptable. If you are going to allow workers to have such items, treat everyone consistently and ensure all staff know what the rules are. If you have any doubts, or believe such items may cause tensions in the workplace, it might be better to consider a ban.

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