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17 Nov 2022

The World Cup and the workplace: Striking the right approach


With the World Cup kicking off on 20 November 2022, large swathes of the workforce are likely to want to watch many of the 64 matches that lie ahead. This may lead to an increase in "banter" as employees back their home teams and competitive tensions run high. In this alert we set out guidance for employers to consider in dealing with the World Cup and the workplace.

What is your approach to employees watching the game during working hours?

You should plan what approach you are taking to employees watching any game during working hours. Some employers may see the World Cup as an opportunity to raise staff morale, encourage team bonding and keep employees on side by screening the game in the office.

Other employers may be taking a stricter approach to ensure that employee routines and schedules are not disrupted. Especially if, given the type of business, it cannot afford an interruption to the usual timetable or functions carried out.

Alternatively, employers may try to strike a balance by temporarily offering more flexible arrangements. For example, they may approve half day holiday requests to watch some of the matches or allow employees to finish early to watch an evening game or to watch a match and make up the time later that day. Care will need to be taken to ensure employees are treated consistently and that no nationality is favoured over any other.

With the increase in remote working it is harder for employers to monitor if employees are watching the matches while working from home. If employers do want to monitor staff they will need to be very careful to comply with their data protection obligations and may need to take specialist advice. Alternatively, employers may decide that monitoring output and productivity ( i.e. that the employee is still getting their job done) is a better metric.

Many employees will be wondering what approach their employer will take and so you should consider how you will respond and communicate it clearly to ensure consistency.

What can you do to try avoid "harmless banter" slipping into potential bullying and harassment?

"They've seen it all before…", whilst Baddiel, Skinner and the Three Lions were not talking about workplace bullying and harassment, employers may have experience of sporting tournaments resulting in an increase in such issues. As countries are pitted against each other and competitive banter abounds, this can slip into stereotyping and offensive comments about certain nationalities or races. You should remind employees about appropriate behaviour, and that even if they do not intend a comment to be offensive, someone may interpret it to be so.

If employers do host screenings of the game accompanied by alcohol, or leading to after-work drinks, its crucial to remember that any incidents that occur at such social events can still be considered to be done "in the course of employment" and have serious repercussions for employees and employers alike.

It is not just in-person behaviour that needs watching, but employees need to make sure they are behaving appropriately online whether on their work emails, IMs and social media. Even posting on their private social media accounts (rather than work-related accounts) can have wide repercussions. Any discriminatory remarks posted on a private account which may offend people or have adverse consequences on the reputation of the employer can result in disciplinary action.

Diversity in the workplace should be encouraged and celebrated. It's likely that some staff are just not that interested in the World Cup and shouldn’t be side-lined or excluded from events. Remember to take this into account in your communications and plans.

We recommend you offer staff a brief reminder of your expectations about their behaviour, signposting to relevant policies and the penalties they may face if they fall foul of these.

What action can you take if you see a spike of sickness absences around or following match times?

Firstly, you shouldn't assume that sickness on a match day, or the day after, is a case of "pulling a sickie" and not genuine. Employees should still comply with sickness absence policies and be treated accordingly in terms of receiving statutory sick pay or company sick pay as applicable. If an employer is suspicious, they can ask an employee for details about their sickness, but employers should tread carefully before making any decision. You should not try to commence disciplinary proceedings or take any action without first speaking to HR or legal advisors.

Employers are advised to plan ahead about their approach to the World Cup to avoid potential pitfalls.

If you have any questions on any of the topics raised in this alert please contact Paul Reeves or Leanne Raven.



Paul Reeves

Paul Reeves
Head of employment

T:  +44 20 7809 2916 M:  +44 7919 694 135 Email Paul | Vcard Office:  London

Leanne Raven

Leanne Raven
Senior knowledge lawyer

T:  +44 20 7809 2560 M:  +44 7827 353 108 Email Leanne | Vcard Office:  London