Time off during the World Cup

  • Insight

13 June 2018

With the World Cup in Russia kicking off tomorrow, and the European Championships taking place in Glasgow this August, what happens when employees decide that they need some “time away” from work to follow the sporting action?

Some of the most exciting events in the sporting calendar will be hitting our TV screens this summer and while some of the more organised employees may already have holiday plans in place, what should employers do if an employee requests some last-minute time off to watch the World Cup semi-finals or to attend the European Championships synchronised swimming event? We take a look at a few fundamental considerations to be borne in mind when dealing with such requests:

Dealing with last-minute holiday requests

There can be potential for problems where employees decide that they need to take some of their annual leave entitlement at short notice. In these circumstances, line managers will have responsibility for dealing with and processing holiday requests whilst ensuring that business demand is met and productivity does not suffer.

Workplace policies are helpful tools for dealing with holiday requests and employees should be reminded of the workplace’s policy requirements at regular intervals, and, in particular, in the time leading to peak holiday periods.

In terms of statutory requirements, the Working Time Regulations 1998 provide that where holidays are requested, a minimum notice period of at least twice as long as the requested period must be given by an employee. Where the employer refuses the leave, they must serve counter notice on the employee with the minimum requirement that the employer gives notice of at least as many days before the proposed leave is due to start as the number of days being refused. Managers should follow these statutory requirements in the absence of established workplace procedures or express contractual provisions detailing otherwise.

What if the employer doesn’t want to or can’t authorise the holiday?

Employers can refuse holiday requests, particularly during peak holiday periods, where the business could not meet demand due to an employee’s absence. The general principle to keep in mind is that if the business is able to support a period of annual leave requested by an employee and the employee has the requisite amount of leave remaining within his/her annual entitlement, then, where possible, a reasonable employer should look to grant these holiday requests.

As with most employment law principles, the key for the employer is that they act consistently and fairly. Where any requests for holiday cannot be accommodated, a reasonable employer should explain the reasons for refusal to the employee, and consider alternative arrangements where possible. Suggesting alternative time off may well help avoid absenteeism.

Unauthorised time off

In reality, some employees may decide to take time off work, possibly citing sickness. This is a particularly difficult area for employers and if it is suspected that this might not be genuine, careful thought must be given to the best way to proceed. It cannot be assumed that employees are “at it”.

It goes without saying that abuse of an organisation’s absence policy can have a negative impact on workplace morale. Employers should be alert to the possibility of abuse of the absence policy and consider what action to take if it is found to have taken place. It is now established in UK employment case law that taking time off as sick leave when not actually sick could be enough to represent a dishonest and fundamental breach of contract and potentially amount to gross misconduct.

Where it is suspected that an employee has done this, employers should gather evidence appropriately and take legal advice throughout any disciplinary process which follows. It can be a tricky area and must be considered on a case by case basis - it will not be the case that employees who are sick must always be at home in bed. Some types of illness may benefit from participation in activity or trips away from the home address. It will not be acceptable to dismiss an employee just because they are found in their local pub watching the World Cup while they are off work sick. Following the correct process is essential.


As a consequence of the sporting events, people could be arriving at work late (and tired) after staying up all night to celebrate a victory or commiserate a loss. 

Where recurring lateness and poor motivation levels become an issue, it would be reasonable for an employer to rely upon their disciplinary procedures to take action if this occurs. Unless there is serious or repeated lateness, it would be expected that any sanctions should be towards the lower end of the scale. Employees should be fully aware of their responsibility to turn up for work on time and to be ready to perform their role. Self-inflicted tiredness is no excuse in this type of situation.


As with most major sporting events, holidays and absenteeism can leave employers in precarious situations. However, reasonable and managed time off can serve to boost morale and positive engagement for workers. Flexibility may be the key to a successful sporting season, but the punishment for cheats can be harsh.

Further information

Our award winning Employment and HR team has a wide client base and regularly advises both employers and employees. If you would like further information or advice on the matters raised within this article, please contact Paul Brown or your usual contact at Anderson Strathern.

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