Football fever: avoiding a red card in the workplace

Football fever: avoiding a red card in the workplace

graphic of football pitch

As World Cup football fever grips fans, this is a timely reminder of our advice on avoiding a red card in the workplace. 

Major sporting events can cause workplace issues including; multiple requests for time off, increased use of the internet, and difficulties over sickness absence. During World Cup 2018 there will be afternoon and evening matches. For many workers wanting to see matches, the key thing will be getting an opportunity to take time off or leave work early. Our key message is that employers should be flexible & fair.

Prospect Legal answers some general questions on workers’ rights during World Cup 2018 below.

In the last World Cup my employer allowed staff time-off to watch the England games. We were expecting the same thing this year, but our manager says we might not be allowed time off because if they give it to England fans they would have to allow everyone similar time off. Is this fair?

Many employers adopt flexibility over working hours during major tournaments and see this as a goodwill gesture and morale booster. ACAS guidance recommends employers should be flexible wherever possible. However employers do need to be careful that they are treating all staff fairly. For example, employees who support other teams in the World Cup should be given similar flexibility, as should staff who are not interested in the football. A failure to treat everyone fairly could give rise to claims of discrimination or resentment.

My normal working hours are 10am to 6pm, and I have asked to be able to leave at 4.00 on match days. My manager has refused as they have already agreed this for other workers in the department and they need someone to stay behind?

It is unfortunate that the managers did not plan this in advance to ensure that everyone is treated fairly. There is no obligation on the employer to allow you to change your hours, so perhaps you should get together with your team members and see if you can draw up an acceptable rota for leaving early which ensures the work is covered. If you can all agree and present a workable solution your manager is much more likely to accept the proposal.

Our office has a World Cup sweepstake, which is causing a lot of interest. Colleagues have already been warned by managers about not using the internet excessively during working hours to check up on games and developments, isn’t this unfair when others are not being targeted.

Employers should have a clear policy on the use of the internet and social media sites at work. Prospect recommends that employers allow reasonable personal use. The policy should be applied in the same way during the World Cup. See the Prospect Members’ Guide to Email and Internet at Work for more information.

I am known at work as an avid England football fan. I received a letter from my manager saying he saw I had taken time off sick during the Euros 2016 and that any absences which coincide with England games, or the day after, must be covered by a medical certificate, and could result in disciplinary action against me. Surely they cannot discipline me if I am sick?

If employers suspect that an illness is not genuine they may decide to instigate disciplinary action. So you do need to be very careful about this. Sadly football fever is not a good reason for absence from work!

ACAS has produced ‘World Cup Advice & Guidance 2018 for employers. They suggest that flexibility is the key to a productive business and engaged workforce throughout the completion.


The answers above are only brief responses to the general issues raised, they should not be taken as definitive answers, and in all cases Prospect members should seek advice from their Prospect representative, or by calling our Member Contact Centre on 0300 600 1878.

Marion Scovell

Marion Scovell


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