2022 FIFA World Cup

Implications For Employers

The 2022 FIFA World Cup tournament is scheduled to take place in Qatar from 21 November to 18 December 2022. This will be the first World Cup ever to be held in the Arab world, and it will be the second World Cup held entirely in Asia after the 2002 tournament was held in South Korea and Japan. It will be the last tournament to involve 32 teams as the 2026 tournament will see an increase to 48 teams.

Due to Qatar’s intense summer heat, this World Cup will be the first tournament not to be held in May, June, or July; it is to be played in a reduced timeframe of around 28 days.

So as football fever grips the nation what can you do to ensure your business continues to operate effectively whilst allowing those who are interested the opportunity to watch the matches?

2022 FIFA World Cup Group Stage

England are in Group B with Iran, United States and Wales, the Group B games are scheduled to be played on:-

Teams Date Local Time British Summer Time
England v Iran Sunday 21 November 16.00 14.00
United States v Wales Sunday 21 November 20.00 18.00
Wales v Iran Friday 25 November 13.00 11.00
England v United States Friday 25 November 22.00 20.00
Wales v England Tuesday 29 November 22.00 20.00
Iran v United States Tuesday 29 November 22.00 20.00

More information about the Group Stages can be found on the 2022 FIFA World Cup website.

The two teams with the highest scores will enhance to the knockout stages of the 2022 FIFA World Cup tournament.

The Importance Of Having A Sporting Events Policy

The biggest concern when a major event such as the 2022 FIFA World Cup is taking place is likely to arise where the scheduling of an important match overlaps with employees’ working hours. The match that is likely to create the greatest interest is the one between England and Wales on Tuesday 29 November. This game could result in requests to leave early on the Tuesday and some non-attendance on the Wednesday morning.

There is no legal requirement for employers to give employees time off to watch major sporting events such as the World Cup and UEFA European Championship or the Olympic Games. Some employers operate a “business as usual” approach with employees who want to take time off must request annual holiday in the usual way. Other employers screen key matches or events at the workplace and allow employees to watch them while they are at work. Those who operate flexible working practices may introduce a temporary adjustment to the rules to allows employees to work around the events that they want to watch and make up lost time later. Whereas those who don’t have a formal flexible working policy may introduce a temporary process to accommodate key sporting events and allow employees to make time up later.

A Major Sporting Events Policy should explain what measures you will implement during major sporting events such as the World Cup or Olympic Games. Policies should include the expectations you have of your employees, and when clearly communicated to all staff should reduce the number of unscheduled absences that would otherwise be the case.

Adopting a policy in advance of a major event will enable both you and your employees to plan ahead and will facilitate open communication about time off and absenteeism. A sporting events policy could, for example, inform employees that they must request annual leave if they wish to take time off and that requests must be made by a specified date. The policy could inform staff that you will make every effort to accommodate holiday requests to watch matches or events, but those employees should be aware that it will not be possible to grant all requests. You might choose to grant requests on a “first come, first served” basis or on a rota basis. Where employees are to be allowed to watch sporting events during work time and on the premises, the policy should set out how you will arrange this and the conduct that it expects from employees (for example that alcohol may not be consumed, and that bad language and rowdy behaviour will not be tolerated).

Prior to the start of the event, you should ensure that you have a clear sickness policy and a reliable method of recording sickness absence, including dates and length of absence and the reasons given. This should allow you to identify patterns of sickness absence (for example where it coincides with the timing of televised matches during the World Cup). You should also check that your disciplinary policy allows you to deal effectively with conduct issues that might arise from sporting events (for example unauthorised absence or attendance at work under the influence of alcohol).

When considering requests for flexibility and/or time off, bear in mind the need for equality of treatment for men and women (don’t assume only men will want to watch football matches, employees of different nationalities and religions, and employees in different age groups. Similarly, care should be taken not to favour men (or younger employees) in terms of any privileges granted to staff during a sporting event.

If you have decided to screen an England match within the workplace, give equal consideration to screening matches involving different nationalities.

Once your policy is agreed apply your rules consistently for all major sporting events for example Rugby World Cup, Olympics, Commonwealth Games and Wimbledon Games or a wedding or funeral of national significance.

2022 FIFA World Cup and Implications for Employers

The key match in the Group Stage that will cause problems for employers is likely to be the England v Wales match on Tuesday 29 November that kicks off at 8pm BST and is likely to create requests to leave work early and could potentially result in increased levels of sickness and lateness on the Wednesday morning.

It goes without saying that the further England progress the higher the interest will be, causing many employers to panic that their employees will be suddenly struck down with a bout of ‘World Cup fever’, taking ‘sickies’ to watch matches or arriving late after a night of celebrating their team has won. Drawing up a policy will be a valuable precaution that will allow you to demonstrate a consistent and fair approach, should a problem arise.

Before the tournament kicks off, remind your employees that:-

  • You expect them to work as normal unless you have agreed an alternative working arrangement with them.
  • That if time off or holiday requests are refused and they subsequently fail to attend work, this will be treated as unauthorised absence for which they could be disciplined, unless they can demonstrate it was for another reason e.g. sickness.
  • Levels of sickness absence will be closely monitored during the tournament
  • Failure to report absence in accordance with your absence reporting procedures is a disciplinary offence that could result in dismissal.
  • Turning up to work drunk or so hung over they are incapable of carrying out their duties will be considered a disciplinary offence. If there is a policy on not drinking alcohol during business hours it would be good practice to remind staff of this so they are clear on the rules and are not tempted to breach them, whether intentionally or inadvertently.
  • Whether listening to or watching coverage of the games at work, such as via mobile phones or the internet, is a privilege and abuse will result in its withdrawal or is not allowed and anyone attempting to listen to or watch coverage will result in disciplinary action which could result in dismissal.

A failure to make it clear to employees that a particular action or behaviour could result in dismissal then any subsequent dismissal would be unfair.

Using Holiday Entitlement

The Working Time Regulations 1998 provide that in the absence of any provision in the contract a worker wishing to take holiday should give notice that is equal to twice the number of days’ leave that they wish to take. The Regulations also allow the employer to decline the dates requested provided that it gives notice equal to the number of days requested. This provision provides employers with flexibility where, for example, a number of employees apply to take the same days off and where, for operational reasons, this cannot be accommodated.

Where an employee takes time off work without authority, the employer will be entitled, following an investigation, to regard the matter as misconduct potentially leading to disciplinary action against the employee.

If December is one of your busy periods your holiday policy and contract of employment probably prevent holiday from being taken during that time. If this is the case you should remind your employees of the rules now!

Monitor how employees are using their entitlement, if some haven’t used much entitlement consider forcing them to take some days over the summer so they don’t come to you in mid-November and ask for all of December as holiday.

Holiday Entitlement During Major Sporting Events
When it comes to major sporting events interest generally grows as a team progresses through the event. As the 2022 FIFA World Cup starts on 21 November and ends on 18 December 2022 the requests for time off to watch key matches are likely to compete with other requests for time off in the lead up to the Christmas period. If you are in the position of not been able to grant all requests you should deal with them in the same way as other periods of high demand. This might mean declining a request, asking another employee to change an already approved request or cancelling a previously approved request.

Read my Top Tips to avoiding discrimination and controlling when holiday can or cannot be taken. Read Holiday Entitlement During Major Sporting Events

Using Flex Time

If you operate a flex time policy you may choose to introduce a temporary adjustment to the rules to allows employees to work around the events that they want to watch and make up lost time later. If you don’t have a formal flex time policy you may introduce a temporary system to accommodate the World Cup and allow employees to make time up later.

If you are considering introducing a flex time policy then introducing it on a temporary basis during the World Cup tournament, will allow you to have a practice run that you can then either make a permanent arrangement, adjust the rules and extend the scheme for a further month or couple of months or end the scheme.

Flex Time During Major Sporting Events
Read about the benefits and challenges of a flex time policy and my top tips to creating a flex time policy. Read How To Introduce a Flex Time Policy

Monitor Sickness Absence

Remind staff before the tournament kicks off what the rules are for reporting sickness and tell them that you’re monitoring levels of attendance during the tournament.

Make it clear that you understand there will be cases of genuine sickness, but that unauthorised absences or patterns in absence could result in disciplinary action.

If an employee takes some time off work for sickness reasons, we shouldn’t automatically assume the absence(s) is connected with the World Cup. If, however, after appropriate investigation (including discussion with the employee) it is established that the sickness absences are not genuine then disciplinary action against the employee should be instigated in accordance with your normal disciplinary procedure.

If the employee is genuinely sick the employee should receive normal entitlements applicable to sickness absence i.e. Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) or Company Sick Pay. If, however, it is established that the employee’s absence is not a result of a genuine sickness, this can be treated as an unlawful absence with the result that the employee will not be entitled to payment including SSP.

Two Memorable Experiences

  • An employee from the accounts department phoned in sick, that evening my husband was watching the highlights from the days events at the World Snooker Championship from the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. Guess who I spotted in the audience! He was invited to a disciplinary hearing which resulted in a first level warning, he was asked to repay his company sick pay and was temporarily removed from the flex time arrangement.
  • An employee from the warehouse phoned in sick, he should have been working the late shift. The following day he was in work. I heard him talking to his mate about the match the previous night at Milton Keynes and how they needed the three points. I went back to my office and checked who Milton Keynes had been playing and it was Sheffield Wednesday. Guess who was a Sheffield Wednesday supporter! He was invited to a disciplinary hearing which resulted in a final warning as he already had a warning on file and was asked to repay his sick pay.

Sickness Absence During Major Sporting Events
Read about the process you will need to adopt when faced with unsatisfactory levels of short-term absence. Read Unsatisfactory Levels of Short-Term Absence

Criminal Offences Committed Outside Work

Where an employee is granted time off work and, in the course of that time off, commits a criminal offence, for example by being drunk and disorderly, committing assault or being involved in hooliganism at a public football match, the employer will need to give careful consideration as to whether or not disciplinary action (and possibly dismissal) would be appropriate. It would be immaterial whether the offence was committed in Britain or overseas. Whether or not dismissal is a reasonable response will depend on the particular facts. Before deciding what action to take, the responsible manager should take into account the employee’s job duties and level of seniority and assess whether or not the particular conduct is likely to have an impact on the employee’s ability to do his or her job. It is reasonable to assume that higher standards can be expected of senior employees and those who deal directly with the organisation’s customers/clients.

If there is a report in the press about the charge and the organisation is mentioned in the report, thus causing bad publicity, there may be stronger grounds for dismissing the employee. For the purposes of defending a claim in an employment tribunal, the dismissal would be for “some other substantial reason” since the employee’s conduct will have brought the organisation’s name into disrepute, even though he or she may not have breached any company rules.

Relevant Case Law

Post Office v Liddiard [2001] All ER (D) 46 (Jun) CA The employee, a postman, was convicted of football hooliganism in France following a clash between rival supporters. He was tried and convicted in France and sentenced to 40 days’ imprisonment. The activities of the football hooligans subsequently received a great deal of publicity in a UK national newspaper’s “name and shame” campaign. Mr Liddiard was dismissed on the ground that he had brought the Post Office’s name into disrepute. The Court of Appeal decided that the dismissal was fair due largely to the adverse press publicity (rather than the employee’s conviction). The employer had been entitled to take into account newspaper coverage of the matter to support the decision to dismiss.

Criminal Offences During Major Sporting Events
Read about your options when an employee is detained in police custody, is sent to prison or receives a criminal conviction for football hooliganism. Read Football Violence and Implications for Employers.

Other things to consider are:-

  • Banter between supporters of different teams: this could lead to harassment claims if the banter gets out of hand.
  • Betting and sweepstakes: is it necessary to issue rules (or reiterate existing rules) on betting and/or running sweepstakes in the office?
  • Dress codes: will employees be allowed to wear clothing that shows their support of a particular national team or be allowed to dress down?
  • Internet misuse: there may be an increase in the use of social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter, or websites covering the World Cup.
  • Personal facilities: will employees be able to or expressly prohibited from, downloading software onto their work computer to enable them to watch certain matches. If current policies already prohibit this, a reminder may be appropriate. What about personal mobile phones, will employees be able to monitor matches from them during working hours?
  • Short term absences: employees may take time off work to watch matches and report the absence as sickness.
  • Social media: reiterate the rules on using social media during work hours (Facebook, Twitter, etc). Are employees usually allowed to use social media during their work day? If so, then remind people in advance of the World Cup starting that excessive use of social media will not be tolerated.

Once you’ve agreed your policy apply the rules consistently for all games in the tournament, remember you may have employees who support other teams.

Once your policy is in place you should apply it equally to all events of national importance i.e. Olympics, Commonwealth Games, Wimbledon or a wedding or funeral of national significance, that could affect your normal working hours. This way, if someone desperately wants a few hours off because they want to watch Andy Murray @ Wimbledon your policy is already written and you can apply the rules consistently.

Kea Model Policy

My Model Policy sets out rules and guidance for all staff on what is expected and what concessions may be granted when a sporting or other special event is taking place.

The temporary measures referred to in the policy are:

  • Time off work
  • Flexibility in working time
  • Unauthorised absence
  • Facilities for watching the event at work
  • Using the internet during the tournament
  • Drinking or being under the influence of alcohol at work
  • Criminal conduct outside work
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The Leave and Time Off folder provides guidance and resources to help you manage those unusual requests for time off work. For instance: time of for dependents, compassionate leave, adverse weather and major sporting events. My Sporting Events Policy suggests alternative ways of working during major sporting events.

2022 FIFA World Cup

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