This was written by Meredith Hurst, Partner at Thomas Mansfield.

The World Cup is a time for celebration but a heady mix of soccer, sunshine and cerveza can wreak havoc on businesses.  Having said that, in light of the time difference between the UK and Brazil should employers really have concerns about the distraction of the World Cup?

Even if England does repeat the success of 1966 and make it to the final, the first game against Italy is on a Saturday and the next against Costa Rica on 24 June kicks off at 17:00 as do most of the games after that.

This might encourage staff to bunk off early or come into work late the next day if it has been a particularly heavy night, but we are unlikely to see a repeat of 2002, when games in Japan and South Korea were played in the morning before working hours, and which might have contributed to poor attendance and lateness.

ACAS guidance

That said, Sir Brendan Barber, the chair of ACAS has provided guidance and reminded employees about the risks of disciplinary action for unauthorised absence and misconduct during the World Cup. The message behind the guidance is flexibility and working together but for those employees who are prepared to risk a red card then guidance for employers is vital.

Policies and Procedures

For those employees without absence management procedures, now is the time to prepare them.

For those whose policies are already in place, it is sensible to remind employees of the need to attend work and that lateness and absences will be treated as a disciplinary issue. It is important to ensure that staff are aware of the employer’s policies, be they on the intranet or in the company handbook.

Employers should review their sickness absence policies and procedures to see how they respond to sickness absence and annual leave. For example, do they allow employees to be paid during their sick leave? Do they allow employees to categorise sick leave as holiday? If so, in what circumstances?

Sick leave

Employees who are refused leave might be tempted to take time off and this can cost employers dearly in respect of both sick pay and productivity.  Employees might then request that their sick leave be regarded as annual leave at a later date, since case law allowing employees to do this is still up in the air. 

It would be reasonable for the employer to investigate sickness absences in those cases where annual leave has been refused but it is sensible not to proceed based on suspicion. Conduct a return-to-work interview or request medical evidence as this is likely to deter future occurrences.

Social media

The use of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media is likely to increase during the games. Mobile phone use in the workplace can waste productive working time and cost employers in financial terms. Employers should have a clear policy on the scope of permitted usage and remind employees of its existence and the consequences of non-compliance. Certain sectors, factories with production lines, mobile sales teams and the like, may impose a complete ban on social media usage. If it is to be permitted then make it clear, when, where and how it is to be tolerated.

If employers take the step of monitoring internet usage then this will usually already be provided for in the applicable email and internet policy. If it isn’t, then remind employees that monitoring will take place, since failure to do so may fall foul of data protection legislation.

Alcohol Misuse

Employees should be reminded that drinking at work is prohibited and that anyone falling foul of the employer’s policy will most certainly face disciplinary action.


Unfortunately football and booze can create a heady mix of laddish culture and jingoism. Remind staff about the company's equal opportunities policy and that respect for people of all genders, and that those of all ethnic or national origins, are paramount. Inform staff that discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated and is likely to lead to serious disciplinary action.

Remember that, if the World Cup is embraced, employers can use it as a means of creating an inclusive event that celebrates diversity.     


Employers may allow employees to work flexibly if the workplace permits. This may encompass varying start and finish times, allowing employees to change rotas or shifts but of course the needs of the business must be balanced with the needs of the employee. 

Employers may allow employees to watch the games at work if they have the facilities available. This is one means of monitoring staff engagement whilst rewarding them at the same time.  Alternatively, employers may allow staff to watch TV or listen to the radio at agreed times and come to an arrangement that they can make up their time later. 

Remember that above all, the World Cup is a time of global celebration and there is no reason why this cannot extend to the workplace. A policy of trusting employees to do the right thing is likely to reap dividends later but if this does impact compliance, then following the above guidance is one sure way to avoid having to hand out too many red cards.