World Cup 2022: Employers' guide to the workplace implications

Author: Stephen Simpson

The 2022 World Cup in Qatar sees 32 nations taking part in 64 matches from Sunday 20 November until Sunday 18 December. Employers should plan ahead to make the most of the impact that this large sporting event can have on staff mental health and morale, while also planning ahead to minimise disruption.

World Cup 2022: resources for employers

Sporting events policy

How to deal with issues arising from major sporting events

Employers are likely to see a significant amount of interest among their workforce in this World Cup, particularly given that:

  • it is the first ever winter World Cup;
  • holding the World Cup in Qatar is so controversial, particularly given the doubts over the legitimacy of how it secured the tournament and its record on human rights, including concerns over the treatment of women, members of the LGBTQ+ community and migrant workers;
  • England and Wales have both qualified for the tournament; and
  • England and Wales are in group B, which some are describing as the "group of death" (alongside Iran and the US, making it both the most politically charged group and the group with the highest average FIFA ranking).

The tournament kicks off with Qatar v Ecuador on Sunday 20 November. From a UK perspective, the highest-profile clash in the group stage is Wales v England on Tuesday 29 November.

The group stage finishes on Friday 2 December, with the knockout stage starting on Saturday 3 December. The tournament culminates in the final on Sunday 18 December.

1. Think about staff mental health and morale

Employers can use the tournament to raise their workforce's morale. Provided that operational needs allow, employers can:

  • screen key matches in the workplace;
  • allow employees to watch games together during working hours (for hybrid/remote workers, this could include arranging remote "watch-alongs");
  • permit special decorations to be temporarily displayed in workplaces (such as flags of participating countries); and
  • temporarily relax dress codes (for example allowing football shirts to be worn).

However, employers need to be aware that some groups, such as members of the LGBTQ+ community, may be feeling alienated by the World Cup being held in Qatar. Others may feel that it is simply not right for their employer to be celebrating this World Cup.

Workplace events related to the World Cup should therefore be optional and workers should not be disadvantaged or derided if they do not want to take part.

2. Increase working hours flexibility during the tournament

To further improve morale and boost employee relations, employers may permit temporary changes to working patterns to allow employees to watch games. For example, employers could let employees:

  • finish early to watch an early-evening game; or
  • take a couple of hours off to watch a match and make up the lost time later.

Employers may see an increase in holiday requests from employees who want time off to watch matches.

For instance, an employee might ask to take a half day to watch a morning or an afternoon game, such as:

  • Wales's game against Iran (at 10am on Friday 25 November); and
  • England's game against Iran (at 1pm on Monday 21 November at 1pm).

Employers could be flexible with holiday requests - for example by allowing requests at short notice where this is feasible.

3. Maintain workforce productivity during the matches

World Cup 2022: FAQs

What should an employer do if it suspects that an employee's reported sickness absence is not genuine?

How should employers deal with employees who turn up for work drunk or hungover?

What should an employer do if an employee is detained in police custody due to alleged football hooliganism?

Some employers may experience a reduction in productivity because employees are watching matches when they should be working.

This could become a particular problem when the employee is working from home and the employer has less control over their activities during working hours.

It is a good idea for employers to remind employees in advance of the World Cup, or in advance of key games, that they should not be watching the football when they should be working.

Employers can also warn employees about unauthorised absence, for example pulling a sickie to watch games, or taking sick leave on the day after a game because they have a hangover.

4. Beware risk of discrimination during World Cup

Employers need to be aware of the potential discrimination issues that could arise. In particular, employers should ensure that:

  • if they offer special arrangements for home nation fans, such as increased flexible working, they offer the same arrangements to fans from other countries; and
  • staff are made aware that harassment linked to the event, for example hostile or racist remarks about a particular country, will not be tolerated.

The group game between Wales vs England on Tuesday 29 November (at 7pm) is one potential flashpoint.

Employers need to be alert to genuine sporting rivalry spilling over into something else. Employers in Wales and England could let employees know in advance of that game of the standards of behaviour expected of them before, during and after the match.

5. Remind employees of their responsibilities outside work

Matches will be shown in public places across the UK such as pubs and fan parks, where alcohol will be plentiful.

News of incidents and bad behaviour can spread like wildfire on social media. To reduce the risk of reputational damage, it is good practice for employers to remind employees that they should behave themselves outside work when watching the football.

It is settled case law that employers can take disciplinary action for misconduct outside work and this is a potentially fair reason for dismissal. In the key case Post Office v Liddiard, the Court of Appeal accepted that an employee was fairly dismissed after his involvement in football hooliganism brought his employer into disrepute.