An employer’s guide to dealing with World Cup fever

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.

Businesses have absolutely no obligation to grant staff time off to watch World Cup matches, or any other sporting fixtures. However, that doesn’t mean to say businesses shouldn’t have a plan in place to deal with requests for leave, or a potential increase in sickness and absence during the tournament.

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.

There are a number of ways you can manage requests from employees, such as permitting annual leave, unpaid leave, shift swaps, or flexible working. You may wish to use the World Cup as an opportunity to trial flexible working ahead of new rules coming into force on June 30 which will extend the right to request flexible working to all employees, not just parents or carers.

Remember it’s not all about England

If you do allow staff time off, ensure that your approach is not limited to England matches and supporters, but instead applies to all nationalities to avoid risks of potential discrimination.

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.

As at all other times, this should be regarded as a serious matter. It is advisable to make it clear to staff at the outset that you will be monitoring absences and that absence on relevant match days may be regarded with suspicion.

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.

Being under the influence of alcohol or drugs while at work presents serious health and safety issues and should be dealt with in the normal way, regardless of the reason.

Beware of TV licensing laws

If anyone at your business watches or records TV programmes as they are being shown on TV, irrespective of what channel they're watching, what device they’re using, and how they receive them, you will need to be covered by a valid TV Licence. The TV Licensing website contains full details of when a TV licence is required.

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.

Consider re-circulating your internet / IT policy to staff explaining what is expected of them and that breaches will be dealt with in accordance with disciplinary procedures. However, remember to think carefully before limiting access to specific categories of employees as this may give rise to complaints and potentially discrimination issues.

Make sure you’re covered for World Cup parties

If you're considering inviting customers or suppliers to your workplace to watch a match, check your insurance policies to ensure they cover such events. You must also keep in mind your obligations under health and safety law and occupiers’ liability legislation, particularly if there are dangerous areas which guests could wander into and be injured.

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.