Employment Law - It's a funny old game!

Author: David Seals

With the World Cup about to kick off in Brazil these are exciting times for football fans. Expectations for the England team doing well are (thankfully) not high but, based on past experience, expecting a few World Cup-related employment issues might be something you should plan for.

Problems with employees during football tournaments (and other major sporting events for that matter) mainly fall within two categories:

1. Attendance problems, e.g. staff taking unauthorised time off or sick leave either to watch games or recover from hangovers.

2. Productivity problems, e.g. staff watching games on the internet or spending time on email or social media discussing football during working hours.

These are potentially significant issues if working days are lost or employees are unproductive or disruptive whilst they are at work. However, prudent employers will be careful how they deal with such issues in order to avoid any potential employment law problems.

Claims of discrimination should hopefully be unusual. However, they are possible. After all, there are many non-English employees working in the UK who may well want to watch their team’s games during the World Cup. Therefore, if you allowed, for example, your staff to leave early to watch an England game but refused to do this for the games involving the teams of your non-English employees you could be discriminating on grounds of nationality giving rise to a potential race discrimination claim under the Equality Act 2010.

If you are considering taking disciplinary action against staff for one of the reasons referred to above then you should act consistently. What have you done in similar situations in the past? If you were lenient previously then taking more serious action this time round could be risky.

Employers should follow proper disciplinary procedures which comply with the relevant ACAS statutory code of practice. Hopefully your organisation’s disciplinary procedure is up to the job. If it may not be you should have it reviewed.

If there is a potential problem with staff using your organisation’s IT systems either to watch games or send football related emails/tweets then you should check to see that your written procedures (such as email/internet usage and social media policies) adequately deal with this. Depending on your organisation, it’s likely that you would want your written policies on these areas to make it clear that employees are not allowed to do these things during working hours.

Employment Tribunals will not be sympathetic to employers who take disciplinary action against staff but whose written employment procedures fail to set out the workplace rules that their employees are expected to follow.

As ever, careful planning is advisable. Thus, you should check when World Cup games are taking place during or near to working hours and assess how disruptive these are likely to be. It may be that you can agree some holiday at short notice (making it clear that this is an exception to your normal rules for notifying leave) for those staff wanting to take time off to watch games/recover from hangovers without this unduly disrupting your operations.

It would also be wise to remind staff of your workplace rules regarding the use of internet/email and social media for non-work related purposes, perhaps gently informing them that breach of these rules may be dealt with as a disciplinary matter.

If you have any queries about the above issues or any other employment-related legal matters, please contact David Seals on 01306 502218 or at d.seals@downslaw.co.uk or your normal contact in the Employment Department.

David Seals

David Seals


Tel: +44 (0) 1306 502218

Office: Dorking Office

Email: d.seals@downslaw.co.uk