Should staff be allowed time off to watch England v Iran in FIFA World Cup? Gullands Solicitors warn employers to tread carefully

Bosses faced with staff wanting time off to watch TV coverage of England in the FIFA World Cup next week are being warned about falling victim to discrimination.

Gareth Southgate's side start their campaign in Qatar on Monday with a match against Iran - kick-off is at 1pm.

The winter World Cup means no chance of a beer in the sunshine for those watching on TV
The winter World Cup means no chance of a beer in the sunshine for those watching on TV

Amanda Finn, partner at Gravesend and Maidstone-based Gullands Solicitors explains the pitfalls to be wary of as staff put in requests for time off.

"It seems that every time there is a major global sporting tournament employers must consider whether they should allow staff time off to watch them," she says, "and if they don’t, how they deal with subsequent staff absence.

"As a starting point it is a good idea to remind all staff of the company policy for requesting time off and notification of sickness absence.

"Yes, it is a once in a four-year event but an employer does not have to accept a holiday request and it is important that all staff are treated fairly and consistently.

"If you do decide to make allowances for changes in working hours to accommodate watching a game or starting later the following day, then it is important that it is stressed that this is a temporary arrangement and that employers deal with other staff requests which are not football related with similar sympathy.

Amanda Finn of Gullands Solicitors
Amanda Finn of Gullands Solicitors

"Without seeking to make assumptions about the gender of football fans, it is likely that if an employer has agreed to a small alteration in hours for many male employees, then a refusal of a request for the alteration to a female member of staff’s hours for other reasons could lead to claims of discrimination in the future.

"If the company is going to take a hard line in relation to sickness absence, it is important that the employees are told about this prior to the event and that the procedure does not depart from any contractual scheme. Employers will have to be very sure of their facts to take disciplinary action and in any event should be careful to follow the statutory disciplinary procedures, to avoid a trip to the employment tribunal."

And that's not all employers need to be alert to, she warns.

Adds the legal expert: "What if the worst-case scenario happens? For example an employee watching in a pub is then involved in violent or disorderly behaviour, and worst case scenario they are arrested. What can the employer do then?

"The answer is not as straightforward as you might imagine. Behaviour which takes place in an employees’ own time may not give an employer sufficient justification for dismissal. Past cases have shown that irrespective of the need to follow the correct procedures, an employer must carefully consider all aspects of the situation including the employee’s version of events and their employment history with the company. It is harder now with so much shared on multiple social media platforms which can ‘go viral’."

The FIFA World Cup kicks off for England on Monday - with a 1pm kick-off time against Iran
The FIFA World Cup kicks off for England on Monday - with a 1pm kick-off time against Iran

The FIFA World Cup kicks off on Sunday as hosts Qatar play Ecuador.

After Iran on Monday, England face the USA on Friday, November 25 and then Wales on Tuesday, November 29. Both of those games kick off at 7pm. Subsequent knock-out rounds England could reach are all scheduled to be played at weekends or with evening kick-offs.

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