Lawyers get in on the World Cup act

May 24 2006 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Employees in Britain are already able to use up to 26 employment acts and 80 types of complaint to launch legal action against their employers. So it was only a matter of time before a legal pitfall emerged around the forthcoming soccer World Cup.

Now lawyers have warned that despite the good intentions of employers who allow their staff to watch the World Cup during work time, they could be laying themselves open to discrimination claims.

"One has to remember that not all staff will be football fans – so what of those employees who may not wish to watch the match – do they get time off too?" asks Tony Bourne, an employment lawyer at Glovers solicitors.

"Taking the stereotypical view that men tend to like football more than women it could be construed that men would get time off to watch football but women would not get equal free time off. As such, it could be viewed as sex discrimination or, more likely, indirect sex discrimination."

According to a survey by finance recruiter Nigel Lynn, two thirds of companies in the UK plan to pre-empt an epidemic of unauthorised "sickies" and "duvet days" by allowing employees to watch World Cup matches during work time.

Even doing something positive for your employees can have a potentially negative effect these days
But as legislation increasingly replaces common sense, it seems that even this could fall foul of the law.

"Even doing something positive for your employees can have a potentially negative effect these days – it's becoming a legal minefield," said Steve Carter, Managing Director of Nigel Lynn.

"With today's diverse workforce, it is unlikely just to be just England matches that employees want to watch so where do you draw the line?" he added.

Tony Bourne's advice is to allow employees to watch England matches – or matches of an employee's home country (if not England) but not both and to require employees to make up for lost time by working through lunch hour or extending the working day.

But if this is symptomatic of the environment in which they now have to operate, it is. little wonder that many of Britain's employers have come to view the entire employment law edifice as a lottery that is stacked against them.