MT Expert - Legal: Staying onside during the World Cup

Here's how to prevent the World Cup playing havoc with your business this summer...

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Unless you happen to be an ostrich, you’ll be aware that the World Cup in South Africa begins on Friday 11 June. Whilst England's first two matches have been scheduled in the evening (British time), the third match will be at 3pm. And, of course, the country expects its team to progress into the later stages of the tournament, with more games scheduled during working hours. What are the key considerations for employers?

One likely issue will be employees asking to take holiday at short notice for match days. Managers should handle such requests in line with their company holiday policy. If it doesn’t say how much notice is required to take holiday, then the Working Time Regulations - which require employee to give notice equivalent to twice the number of days they want off - will apply.

Multiple holiday requests for the same day should normally be dealt with on a first come, first served basis. Requests can be refused if an employee has not given proper notice or if the needs of the business mean that all wishes can't be accommodated.

An alternative to requiring employees to take holiday is to offer employees flexible working arrangements to enable them to watch matches. This might involve allowing an early start and finish time, or permitting staff to take a later, extended lunch break. However, the employer should be clear that flexibility will only be possible so far as it does not conflict with the essential needs of the business. 

In order to avoid allegations of discrimination, employers should ensure employees of other nationalities enjoy similar flexibility to England supporters so that they too can watch their teams’ matches.

Another possibility is to make arrangements to allow employees to watch matches during the working day, for example by putting a TV in the canteen or other shared area. This is probably a good way to avoid absenteeism and may provide a good boost for staff morale. Nonetheless, it's worth making sure the TV is in an area where it won't disturb those who are not interested and trying to get on with their work.

Some employees may want to watch or listen to matches live on their work PCs. Many employers have computer usage policies that, for example, prohibit the use of live-streaming or limits personal use of the internet. Employers intending to enforce these kinds of rules during the World Cup – to prevent staff watching matches online - should issue a reminder of the policy ahead of the start of the tournament. Watch out too if employees are watching live football on their computers and your premises don’t have a TV licence.

Whilst the World Cup can be a great opportunity for staff to bond together, there is the risk that some employees could take good natured support for their team a step too far. Managers need to be alert to possible breaches of their organisation’s diversity and equal opportunities policies if employees engage in nationalistic jokes or banter. An employee could bring a claim of harassment if they are subjected to unwanted conduct which has the purpose or effect of violating their dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment, on grounds of their nationality or ethnic origin. Employers should ensure that any breaches of their equality/diversity policies are dealt with seriously and, where appropriate, treated formally as a disciplinary offence.

Hannah Price is an employment law specialist at law firm Lewis Silkin LLP

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