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Is football a religion? How to deal with world cup fever…


The World Cup season is upon us and the frenzy has begun. Employers are receiving increased requests for time off and are also bracing themselves to deal with the thorny issue of unauthorised absences. 

Despite what the media say, we are not at a stage yet where the Courts will class football as a religion; employers everywhere are hoping that we never see that day. But there are still some issues to be aware of… 

Some employers have opted to allow staff to watch matches, so long as it does not adversely affect business, whilst others are adopting a zero tolerance approach. 

However the issue is approached, we suggest that consistency is the key to avoiding complaints of discrimination. For example, many employers who are focused on England games, without paying enough attention to the other nation's games do so at their peril. We suggest that employers take a step back, and consider whether they are applying their usual approach to flexible working during the World Cup season (as they would at any other time of year). 

In law, the position is that any additional time off work over the statutory annual leave entitlement is at the employer's discretion. 

Flexible working 

During this World Cup season, you could offer employees an option to work on a flexible basis, starting later or finishing earlier, or taking longer lunch breaks. Employees are then free to work alternative hours to make up for the time spent watching the matches or swap shifts. 

What if the flexible working is not appropriate? 

There are some other ways that you could deal with absences during the World Cup season, such as: 

  • allowing employees to "buy" back time, by offering to reduce pay (subject to the national minimum wage requirements), but this approach risks being seen as petty, which may adversely affect staff morale and motivation; 
  • approving requests to take time off as part of annual leave. The risk in this approach is that a whole department or workforce may request time off to watch the same match, making it impractical to approve their requests. A workaround could be to agree to requests on a first come first served basis; 
  • allowing the radio or TV to be on during the games. However, you run the risk of a very unhappy workforce if this is not feasible because of an urgent business need. 

If you decide to take this as an opportunity to boost morale and screen matches to your employees, here are the licences that you will need: 

  • TV licence from TV Licensing ( (required to watch live TV or internet broadcasts). 
  • A Performing Rights Society (PRS) Licence from the PRS hotline (0800 068 4828). 
  • A Phonographic Performance Licence (PPL) from the PPL hotline (0207 534 1070). 

Unauthorised absences 

Even if you implement a flexible working arrangement during this World Cup season, you may still be faced with some employees taking unauthorised absences. This presents an issue that employers need to deal with quickly. 

In law, the position is that unauthorised absences should be dealt with in the usual way, and therefore, the disciplinary policy should be applied against any abuse of the right to self-certify sickness. If there is a concern that such unauthorised absenteeism may become widespread, you could require that, during the World Cup season, employees provide a doctor's note if they take time off sick, rather than continuing to accept self-certification of sickness absence. 

Potential pitfalls 

  • Women and men must be offered the same rights, to avoid complaints of discrimination. 
  • Rights should be made available consistently to all nationalities matches, for the same reason as above. 
  • The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and Occupiers' Liability legislation should be borne in mind, in particular, employers are responsible for ensuring that their employees and guests do not put themselves or others at risk either at or after the event. For example by consuming too much alcohol or entering any dangerous parts of the premises. 
  • Check insurance policies are adequate. 
  • Remember that the matches are in South Africa, so in the UK, matches will start one hour earlier. 

If you would like further information and guidance on the employment law, HR or any other matter we would be happy to meet with you. Our free Legal MOT offers you the opportunity to meet with a Commercial Solicitor for no charge.

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