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Emma O'Connor


The world cup is taking place Sunday 20 November until Sunday 18 December. Emma O’Connor, Director and Head of HR Training, gives her top tips to help employers survive and employees thrive during the tournament.

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Yes, it is World Cup time again!  Despite the controversy and it being the first ever winter World Cup, both England and Wales have qualified for the finals in Qatar.  Many staff might be looking forward to watching some of the matches, following a national team or simply have an interest in the beautiful game more generally.  The World Cup may have a positive impact on a workforce as a chance to come together in national or sporting celebration.  However, what tips can I give to employers so that the 4-week period runs smoothly from an employment law and engagement perspective?


Watching the games at work

Setting up a screen at work to allow staff to watch key games could be a great way to boost morale amongst staff, if that is what is agreed.  Employers could even live stream to those who are working remotely as well to create the feeling of togetherness.  Management might decide which games will be shown at work, or they could ask staff if there were preference games – again a way to bring staff together. Many staff may not want to watch England or Wales so be accommodating to those who support other national teams. A simple poll amongst staff or saying that you are going to show quarter/semi or final matches is again another way to do it. If staff are watching together, remember to remind them about being tolerant and respectful of others – you want to create an inclusive environment.


Watching Games at your desk or whilst working?

Whilst setting up a screen may work for some workplaces, not all environments or workplaces are able to do this.  What about employees watching on their laptops or phones (whether these are work or personal)? What about employees “watching from home”? If your organisation does not allow any personal or incidental use of email or internet during working hours, then this might be the stance that continues to be taken.

However, other employers may allow some personal use of email/internet during working hours provided that this is incidental to or does not interfere with one’s job, it complies with any acceptable use policy, and it is not excessive. There should be boundaries set around “incidental” use of the internet and what this means, a policy on email or internet use, clear communication and a raising of awareness around email/internet misuse. Use must also be acceptable etc in terms of its content as well.

Repeating the rules around email and internet use would be advisable, making clear that should use be excessive and/or interfere with work that this could lead to the privilege being revoked as well as being a disciplinary offence. Productivity is still key so if people want to watch during lunch/break or before or after work then this is ok, provided work takes priority.

Rules apply equally to working at home or in the office; but remember to act fairly and proportionately in the way such rules are enforced: a fair process as well as a fair reason are essential. Also, think about the job the employee does.  Is watching a game whilst working safe? Again, there may have to be different rules between employees but still act consistently.


Flags and memorabilia?

Personalising workspaces is a question of yes or no for the employer.  If the answer is yes, and staff are to be allowed to personalise their workplace with football memorabilia, there needs to be clear guidelines set.  How long can decorations be up for, what are the boundaries in terms of acceptability and taste. 

Another option, and perhaps a more inclusive approach, would be to have a physical and/or virtual “World Cup Wall” where employees can post pictures or decorate with their own countries they are supporting as well as having all nations represented. Also, you could include people’s memories of “where were you at…”, allowing employees of all ages to share their memories of previous Work Cup moments.


Social media

Many of you reading this will be worrying about “banter” in such circumstances and you would be right to.  Social media posts – even on personal accounts – can have huge implications for employers and employees alike.  Offensive, discriminatory, threatening or inappropriate messages sent to someone within your organisation or outside of it, posted, liked or shared can lead to reputational damage to your business as well as lead to disciplinary action for the individual.  Comments could also be harassing behaviour as well as discriminatory. 

Check your social media policies – do they include rules around personal messages sent on personal accounts as well as employer accounts? Even with the strongest privacy settings, there cannot be an expectation of privacy, messages can be screenshot and forwarded with ease.  Warn of the likely risks and consequences.

Think before your tweet!


Alcohol and substances

Staff should not come to work under the influences of alcohol or drugs (unless prescription medication). Your workplace rules may also extend to possession as well.  Restate the rules around alcohol and drugs – making clear it is a disciplinary offence (as well as possibly criminal). If you are providing alcohol at work, again this is on the proviso that it is to be used sensibly and within moderation. Good judgement should be used. Be mindful of those who do not drink alcohol and make specific provision to ensure all can enjoy the events.


Time off/Flexible work

Whilst employees can request holiday, it has to be taken at times which are acceptable to the employer.  If an employee has asked to take time off, it should be considered fairly and in line with your existing holiday policies or rules.  If the time off cannot be accommodated communicate clearly why and try and be as flexible, as you can.  If an employee requests to change their working hours on a particular day again act fairly and in line with other requests of a similar nature. Also act fairly in terms of who is making the request; agreeing to time off to watch an England game but not a game for another national team may have other discriminatory consequences. 

Similarly with an ad hoc flexible working request, can this be accommodated? Provided requests have not been accepted in other similar circumstances, or managers are not picking and choosing requests on an unfair basis, they do not have to be accepted.  However, think about the alternatives – lateness, other absence – it may be better to accommodate the request than have to deal with absenteeism. 



If staff are absent or take an unexpected day’s leave, then you are within your right to ask “why?”.  Employers should already have processes around reporting of absence, return to work interviews and self-certification.  If you suspect that your attendance rules are not being complied with or the absence is not genuine, then, depending on your work rules, you may have recourse through your sick pay, unauthorised absence or disciplinary policy.  These are things employers – and especially managers - should be alert to and managing effectively anyway. 


Conduct inside (and outside) of work

Employers are liable for the actions of their employees whilst they are “in work” and where there is a "connection" between the act in question and the work which they do for you.  The definition of what is “at work” and what constitutes “work” are particularly grey and caselaw has shown the definition to be wide.  Make clear that your employees are your ambassadors – inside and outside of the place of work.  Set what behaviours are acceptable and what are not and what the likely consequences are if there is unacceptable conduct. 


Sweepstakes and gambling

Even though these can be a bit of fun, be careful not to fall foul or rules relating to lotteries and gambling. 


Get creative!

Football may not be everyone’s sport of choice so think about what you could do to include everyone.  Quizzes, “did you know”, cake baking (decorate in a national flag etc), sporting challenges, raising money for a local sporting charity or raising awareness of racism in football (e.g., Kick It Out) – there are lots of different opportunities to get involved in football without having to watch the tournament.


Do we need an events policy?

Maybe.  However, in these situations which should bring people together, asking staff to use their common sense as well as work within your existing policies may be more appropriate.  Employers should have policies which already deal with inclusive workplaces, using the email, social media or internet as well as disciplinary offences. That said, I am in favour of having a policy about representing the employer or being an ambassador.  This can also include situations where an employee is representing the employer at a client or other workplace event. It is something to think about. Whatever, you decide, good communication, leading by example and setting clear guidelines – whilst maintaining a sense of togetherness and fun - may be a better approach.



Much of this is about employer choice.  Whether you want to allow staff to watch games or decorate their workplace is up to you and your workplace culture.  Some may wish to embrace the tournament as a chance to bring staff together, to engage staff and act as a morale booster. 

Set out clear boundaries, revisit your workplace policies, communicate and think how you can make plans inclusive of all staff. Remind staff about being respectful, tolerant and mindful of others. Think about manager training, especially around equality and diversity issues (this should always be a must!). Common sense goes a long way in these situations – it is, after all, only a game. 


Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.

Get in touch

If you have any questions relating to this article or have any legal disputes you would like to discuss, please contact the Employment team on

[email protected]
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