World Cup fever

The World Cup 2018 starts on 14 June. In this alert we help employers plan ahead to avoid the HR headaches!

Employers need to be gearing up now for any potential disruption and making decisions on how they will manage potential issues.

Unauthorised Absences

Employers should make staff aware in advance how World Cup related unauthorised absence will be dealt with and consider measures to act as a deterrent. Examples could include greater scrutiny of absences during the tournament, carrying out return to work interviews for all absences and taking disciplinary action for the worst offenders. Employers should also review contracts and handbooks to ascertain whether they have the ability to withhold pay for unauthorised absence. However, any deductions from salary need to be justifiable as the employee could make a claim to the Employment Tribunal for unlawful deduction from wages.


Employers could consider taking steps to minimise unauthorised absence by implementing schemes to accommodate staff watching games including allowing employees to finish slightly early to get home in time for kick-off or permitting  shift swaps. However, it is important that employers make sure that the business can reasonably function with such changes.


During the tournament, the consumption of alcohol on weeknights is likely to be higher, which may result in more self-inflicted days off, lateness or reduced performance in the workplace on days following matches. Having an alcohol policy in place is essential as it makes it clear to employees what will and will not be tolerated in relation to being under the influence of alcohol in the workplace and other alcohol related issues.

Holiday Requests

There is likely to be an increase in holiday requests in anticipation of the tournament commencing. Employers should ensure that when they are considering requests, they act fairly and consistently. Any decision should be based on non-discriminatory criteria and employers should consider dealing with a high volume of requests on a ‘first come first served’ basis or using a rota system.

Social Media and Internet usage

The widespread use of social media and the availability to access social media and stream matches on a number of platforms whilst at work can create potential problems.

Employers should ensure that they direct employees to their social media and IT policies prior to the tournament commencing. If there is no existing policy in place, now would be an ideal time to implement one in order to point out to employees what is and is not acceptable and how any breaches of such policies will be dealt with.

Employees cannot rely on their domestic TV licence to watch matches at work, unless they are watching on a mobile device and that device is not plugged in to a charger. The employer would need their own licence for live matches shown on a TV or streamed via the internet.


A further potential risk for employers is the risk of discrimination claims arising from World Cup related issues in the workplace.

‘Patriotism’ often runs high during major football championships but it is important for employers to ensure that ‘banter’ between employees of competing nationalities does not stray into offensive remarks being made based upon a person’s nationality.

Equally, employers should treat all employees the same when granting requests for holidays or early finishes.  If English fans are allowed to finish early, supporters of a different nationality wanting to support their team should likewise have their requests granted.

Employers are vicariously liable for acts of their employees during the course of employment but can establish a defence by showing that they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination taking place. This could include additional guidance issued in line with an equal opportunities policy, equal opportunities training or swift disciplinary action in light of employee conduct.


Employers must find a balance between maintaining an efficient workforce and allowing staff to follow and enjoy the event. Whilst it is essential for employers to protect themselves against issues which may arise, it is also possible to use events like this as an opportunity to boost team morale. For example, employers could hold World Cup company staff events or allow employees to finish early in order to watch matches.

Many of the issues discussed above could give rise to disciplinary action being taken against employees. It is essential that employers follow their policies and procedures along with the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures, whilst also ensuring that consistency is exercised throughout the workforce.

It is also important to note that not all of us are football lovers and therefore employers should ensure that any changes, benefits or flexible arrangements apply to everyone during the tournament.

For help and advice in relation to the potential issues associated with the World Cup or if you have any other employment law queries, please contact Joanne HolbornTom Scaife or Caroline Raynert on 01228 552600.

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