When cup fever strikes it pays to be on the ball

As everyone must be aware by now, the football World Cup kicked off on
Friday and will run through until the final on Sunday, 30 June.

However, amid all the excitement, the tournament has the potential to cause
headaches for employers.

The biggest concern for employers is likely to be the 50 hours of football
scheduled during working hours.

This may mean that up to seven million employees may be off work during the
World Cup. However, if handled correctly the World Cup could be an opportunity
to boost employee morale, following what for many employers has been a
difficult year.

Rules of the game

Before considering the practical implications the World Cup matches may
have, it is important to remind ourselves of the relevant legal issues:

• Under the Working Time Regulations 1998, employees have the right to take
up to four weeks paid holiday. Employees may also be entitled to additional
holiday under their contract of employment. The contract may also set out the
way in which holiday is taken

• Employers have the right to refuse an employee’s request for holiday
provided they follow the statutory counter-notice procedure

• If employees are off sick, providing they comply with the relevant
notification requirements, they will be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay
(providing that the employee has been off sick for at least four days) and any
additional contractual sick pay set out in their employment contract/staff

• If an employee is off sick, they may ‘self-certificate’ for up to seven
days – in other words they are not obliged to supply their employer with a
doctor’s certificate until the eighth day of their absence due to illness

• Employers should be aware of any disciplinary procedures applicable to

Preventing foul play

We recommend that a combination of tackling the issue early and working with
employees will be crucial in minimising the impact that the World Cup may have
on levels of absence and productivity. You may therefore like to consider some
or all of the following:

• Remind employees that any requests for holiday during the tournament
should be made as soon as possible. If applicable, you should make clear the
basis upon which requests will be granted, for example in accordance with the
normal holiday procedure, or first come first served

• Make sure you know when matches, especially popular ones, are being
played. For more information go to: www.thefa.com/ worldcup or

• Be firm but flexible – perhaps tell employees that you are happy for them
to work ‘flexible hours’ (starting earlier or later than normal) to enable them
to watch their home country’s matches and certain other key matches but that
any ‘working’ time which is taken up in doing so should be made up that

You should also make it clear that any unauthorised absence or inability to
work because of excess alcohol will, as usual, not be tolerated and, if
appropriate, will be dealt with under the usual disciplinary procedures.

• Consider screening popular matches (those involving England, for example)
at the workplace.

• For games kicking off at around midday, suggest employees take a ‘long
lunch’ with working time being made up as appropriate, although remind them
that soft drinks will be a more appropriate form of refreshment and/or remind
them of any policy dealing with the consumption of alcohol during working

• When games are over employees are still likely to be distracted and so you
may consider a short ‘cooling off’ period to allow employees to wind down and
discuss the game.

Catherine Taylor is a partner in the Employment department at Olswang

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