Tackling employment issues during the FIFA World Cup
Whilst it is hoped that the World Cup can be enjoyed by everyone, there are a few potential pitfalls for employers to consider.
The World Cup kicked off on Sunday 20 November 2022 and will finish on 18 December. Whilst it is hoped that the World Cup can be enjoyed by everyone, there are a few potential pitfalls for employers to consider. This is particularly so as many of the matches, especially during the group-stage, will take place during working hours.
Watching matches during working hours
Employers may want to consider a flexible approach and allow employees to watch matches in the workplace, for example on their mobile phone or on a company laptop/computer, or even at home. However, employees that are working from home are inevitably less visible and harder to monitor. Therefore, employers may want to offer employees the ability to watch a match in the workplace. Alternatively, employees can be authorised to watch at home, provided that time is made and it does not impact the business. Adopting a flexible approach is likely to lead increase in morale, less sickness absence and ultimately an increase in productivity.
Employers may allow employees to watch matches during work but not on company equipment; if this is the case then employers should revisit their policies in relation to email and internet use and should reiterate the relevant sections to employees. For example, many policies state that only minimal personal use of company internet or IT systems is permitted and that it must not interfere with business commitments. Please note that employers that are considering monitoring employee use of the internet should be cautious; this can involve the processing of personal data, and so data protection legislation must be complied with. Personal data may not be processed unless there is a lawful basis under UK GDPR. Employees must also be informed of the basis for the processing and the purposes for which information will be processed.
If, despite a flexible approach, there are concerns about unauthorised absence, lateness, poor performance or productivity, they should be addressed in the usual way as a disciplinary/performance issue under company policies.
Employers should be clear on the approach they are taking in relation to employees watching any match during working hours. The approach should be applied consistently, both to employees in the workplace and employees working from home.
Risks of discrimination claims
“Banter” at work in connection with the World Cup could lead to potential claims of discrimination and harassment.
Football related conversations that can be termed "banter” can, in certain cases, be an example of ‘unwanted conduct’. If unwanted conduct, is found to be related to a relevant protected characteristic (such as race, religion, belief or sex), it might constitute harassment under the Equality Act 2010 if it has the purpose or effect of violating another employee’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.
Employers should therefore set clear boundaries for employees in relation to any office conversation in connection with the World Cup and they should be alert to issues such as rivalries within the workplace based on national teams.
Employees’ posts on social media accounts, even on private accounts, can also have workplace implications. Any discriminatory posts from employees could potentially lead to reputational damage to the business, and it could create a hostile environment in the workplace.
Employers may consider taking steps to remind employees that any bullying or discriminatory behaviour will lead to disciplinary action. Employers should also check their social media policies and consider recirculating the relevant rules. Employers should signpost employees to relevant policies and the penalties they may face if such policies are breached.
Furthermore, employers should try to be as inclusive as possible, and bear in mind that some employees might not be interested in football or the World Cup. Employers should take this into account in their communications, so that those employees do not feel excluded.
Employers should promote diversity and inclusivity, endorse a culture of respect, and make it clear that they support all of their employees, whichever nationality they are and whichever team they support. Employers should take steps to address any concerns if they arise.
Employers should be careful not to offer flexibility, or grant requests for holiday/flexible working, only during a particular nation’s matches, as this may disadvantage employees who support other teams. Under the Equality Act 2010, the protected characteristic of ‘race’ includes “nationality (including citizenship) ethnic or national origins”. Therefore, if an employer accepts requests from employees who are English or Welsh that coincide with England or Wales games but rejects requests from employees who are not English or Welsh for another team’s game, it could amount to less favourable treatment because of a protected characteristic.
If employers decide to allow employees to wear football shirts, or display flags or other memorabilia, in the workplace, it should be made clear that all countries are permitted to be represented.
Many employers will want to adopt a balanced approach, and be temporarily more flexible than usual in order to raise team morale. Once an approach has been decided, it should be communicated clearly to employees, so that they are aware of what is expected of them and what is permitted. Employers should revisit workplace policies to ensure they are still appropriate, and they should be applied consistently. Importantly, there should be a consistent approach and all employees should be treated with dignity and respect.
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