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:-
|England v Iran
|Monday 21 November
|United States v Wales
|Monday 21 November
|Wales v Iran
|Friday 25 November
|England v United States
|Friday 25 November
|Wales v England
|Tuesday 29 November
|Iran v United States
|Tuesday 29 November
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.
How The 2022 FIFA World Cup Might Affect Your Workplace
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 key match in the group stage that is likely to create the greatest interest is the one between England and Wales on Tuesday 29 November that kicks off at 8pm BST. This game could result in requests to leave early on the Tuesday and could potentially result in increased levels of non-attendance 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.
Whilst you may adopt a business-as-usual approach at the beginning of the tournament there may come a time when you have to make some concessions.
Major sporting events, such as the 2022 FIFA World Cup, may impact a business in several ways. These can include:
- Requests for time off at short notice.
- Unauthorised staff absence.
- Timekeeping issues.
- Lower productivity.
- Use of company internet facilities to follow the event.
- Problems linked to alcohol consumption.
- Discord between employees who are fans of the event, and employees who are not interested.
- Discord between supporters of different teams.
Drawing up a policy will be a valuable precaution that will allow you to demonstrate a consistent and fair approach, should a problem arise.
Adapting Working Practices
Before the start of the tournament, it is advisable to have sufficient policies in place to deal with the issues that are likely to arise during the course of the event. By sharing these policies with your workforce in advance of the tournament everyone will be clear on the expectations during the tournament. If operational demands prevent you from adopting flexibility you should make this clear so employees understand why they can’t take holiday or other types of time off.
The Working Time Regulations 1998 provide that in the absence of any provision in the contract an employee wishing to take holiday should give notice that is equal to twice the number of days’ leave that they wish to take. During the tournament you might consider relaxing these rules and allowing holiday to be approved with shorter notice periods.
The Regulations allow the employer to decline the dates requested provided that it gives notice equal to the number of days requested. This provision provides flexibility where, for example, a number of employees apply to take the same days off and this cannot be accommodated for operational reasons. Make it clear to employees how conflicting requests will be dealt with for instance you might operate a first come first served approach or on a rota basis.
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.
ACAS recommend that all holiday requests should be considered fairly and that a consistent approach should also be adopted in relation to other major sporting events when granting 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
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.
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).
Reminding your employees, before the tournament kicks off, what the rules are for reporting sickness and tell them that you are 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 day’s 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.
Reducing Sickness Absence During Major Sporting Events
Read about how Return to Work Meetings can help reduce sickness and unauthorised absence. Read Return to Work Meetings
Introducing a more flexible working day, when employees may come in a little later or finish sooner, and then agree when this time can be made up is a popular approach to managing employee attendance during major sporting events. Allowing staff to swap shifts with employees who aren’t interested in the tournament or support a different team are other temporary measures you may adopt.
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
Use of the Internet and Social Networking
There is likely be an increase in the use of social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter, or websites covering the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
ACAS suggests that all employers should have a clear policy regarding internet use in the workplace and the policy should be made available to all employees. It should also be noted that if employers are monitoring internet usage, then the general data protection regulations require them to make it clear that it is happening to all employees. The internet use policy should also make it clear to employees what is and what is not acceptable usage.
Drinking or being under the influence at work
Some people may like to participate in a drink or two while watching the match or even may go to the pub to watch a match live.
The advice from ACAS points out that it is important to remember that anyone caught drinking at work or found to be under the influence of alcohol in the workplace could be subject to disciplinary procedures. Accordingly, it may be worthwhile for employers to make their employees aware of any no alcohol policy in order to avoid such situations from occurring.
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  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.
Other things to consider are:-
- Banter Between Supporters of Different Teams: this could lead to harassment claims if the banter gets out of hand. Supposed ‘friendly’ banter can be perceived by some as discriminatory. An employee could feel harassed, especially if someone is making comments about people or players from a different nation. Again. increased awareness of the potential for this to cause issues in the workplace should be facilitated via communication of the business’ discrimination and harassment policy to staff.
- 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?
- Communal Facilities: is there any merit in providing communal facilities to watch football matches (e.g. a television in the canteen)? When would these be made available – for all matches/certain key matches (whilst noting the “make up” of the workforce before limiting access to certain national teams)? What limits if any would be put on individuals using the facilities (e.g. how many matches they can watch in a certain period)?
- 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?
Finally, employers should recognise that the Football World Cup, rather than representing a danger to effective workplace interactions, can be seen as an excellent opportunity for employees and colleagues to connect and for the business to facilitate and embed good working practices. It can provide the real prospect of enhancing teamwork and camaraderie by demonstrating an organisation’s flexibility and support for its employee’s interests, thereby improving worker morale and productivity.
Adopting a Major Sporting Events Policy
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).
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.
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.
Be clear about what conduct is unacceptable and might give rise to disciplinary action such as unauthorised absence, unacceptable banter, intoxication, bringing alcohol into the workplace etc. It would be unfair to discipline an employee for breaking a rule they didn’t know existed.
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.
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