How do I manage holiday requests and sickness absences during the World Cup?

How do I manage holiday requests and sickness absences during the World Cup?

This year, the time difference of the host nation means that many World Cup football matches will take place during most people’s working day. Unless you have plans to enable employees to watch or listen to the matches in the workplace, it is likely that your business will receive more holiday requests and encounter an increase in sickness absences on match days. So how can you best manage this potential period of disruption for your business? In this article, senior employment solicitor Ella Bond discusses the options available to you.

Common methods for prioritising leave requests

As with any time of high demand for holiday, such as Christmas and school holidays, you need to ensure any competing requests are dealt with fairly. If you do not already have a system in place, deciding upon one and communicating this to employees before the start of the World Cup is advisable. Here are some ideas you may want to use:

  • A ‘first come first served’ basis is often one of the fairest ways to decide on who should and should not have their holiday agreed. Those who put in their requests first will have first refusal of those holiday dates. Whilst this is a simple, well understood and generally accepted system, for some employees they may be unable to plan holidays with the same degree of certainty due to child-care commitments for example, so it is not always the fairest approach.
  • A fair rota whereby those individuals who are allowed certain World Cup dates off would not have first refusal of other key holiday dates, such as dates for other matches or dates over Christmas or school holidays. This is to try and ensure that all colleagues have an opportunity to get some of the holiday dates they would ideally like. 
  • Manager’s discretion – When a team has several competing holiday requests a manager may ultimately decide who will have their holiday approved or refused. The manager may make this decision on what they believe is fair and what they determine to be in the best interests of the company (considering workloads for example). Any management discretion will need to be carefully exercised so as to avoid potential discrimination claims and manage employee relations. Any decision taken to accept or refuse a request should be reasonable, justifiable and communicated effectively.
  • Drawing names out of a hat or similar system is sometimes used so that managers are seen to stay impartial. However, this does have the effect of taking the decision out of the Company’s hands and may therefore transpire in unfair results or results which do not work well for the business.
  • A non-discriminatory approach All decisions should be free from discriminatory assumptions, for example, assumptions that males rather than females or English fans rather than, say, French fans are more deserving of the time off.
  • If employees do not have sufficient holiday entitlement, employers may wish, in the spirit of good relations, to allow unpaid leave, although they are not under any obligation to do so. Also consider looking at swapping shift patterns of different staff in the team to cover the work and maximise the amount of leave that can be permitted for employees that want to take holiday on match days.
  • If your business permits and the employee agrees you could allow an employee to amend their working hours or agree to make up the time in the future on a temporary basis, provided the changes are not in breach of the working time regulations. Any change in working hours should be agreed before the event and recorded clearly in writing, making the nature and duration of the change clear and unambiguous.
  • You may have the ability in some workplaces to show matches and allow employees to take longer breaks so that they can watch them, or you could allow radios or live website access so that employees can listen to/keep up to date with the matches whilst they work. This might be a helpful compromise but must be applied consistently and fairly. In particular, you may want to set a limit as to how many matches employees can watch during the course of the tournament and ensure the matches you show are take into account all of the workforce and not just the England fans for example.
  • You may allow employees to work from home with conditions attached, such as they must be logged on and able to respond to urgent enquiries even during the match. This can mitigate the chance an employee may call in sick as it provides certainty that they need not attend the office, but it will be a judgment call for you as to whether the employee will be able to effectively carry out their role on this basis.

What if I refuse an employee’s holiday request and they call in sick or do not turn up to work?

Whilst you might hope that employees would be loyal and not breach their contract of employment and risk disciplinary action with an unauthorised absence to watch a football match, recent Yougov surveys have reported that as many as one in four men aged between 25-34 would seriously consider taking an unauthorised absence when the World Cup kicks off.

With any refusal of holiday requests during this time, we recommend that you remind employees that it would be an offence for them to take unauthorised absence and the consequence in the event that they were to do so.  

Whilst it can be easy to be suspicious of any sickness absence (particularly if the employee had requested holiday which had not been granted), you should not jump to conclusions as this could just be coincidence. Your employee should follow your company’s sickness absence procedure reporting requirements and if you have reason to be suspicious as to the reason for the absence a fair and reasonable investigation should be carried out and your company’s disciplinary policy should be followed in the normal way. In this scenario, you should deal with any unauthorised leave of absence consistently for all employees but if this is a repeat offence and depending on the wording of your policy documentation, it may be that a sanction up to and including dismissal would be justifiable. If you would like assistance with drafting a disciplinary or sickness absence policy, our employment solicitors can help.


It is helpful to be transparent on your business’ rules and expectations before you are expecting to have to deal with issues relating to the World Cup. It is likely to cause fewer disagreements if you are able to remind your employees of the processes you will use to decide on holiday requests, remind them about sickness absence reporting, and your disciplinary procedure before the tournament kicks off. As alcohol can be a feature of World Cup matches, you may also want to remind employees of any policy or rules around drinking alcohol at work or turning up to work still under the influence of alcohol.

If you are planning on making arrangements to allow employees to watch or listen to matches, making this clear at the earliest opportunity can also help boost morale and reduce the likelihood of unauthorised absences on match days. If there are conditions attached to this, such as urgent work is still a priority and must be covered between certain times, again make this clear from the outset to reduce disruption to your business and make the rules clear to your staff. If you would like guidance on any of the above, our employment experts are here to help.

About our expert

Ella Bond

Ella Bond

Senior Employment Law Solicitor
Ella joined Harper James as a Senior Solicitor in January 2020, having previously worked at top 50 West Midlands law firm Shakespeares (now Shakespeare Martineau). Having qualified in 2007, she is highly experienced in the field of Employment Law, working with a vast range of clients from start-ups to large national and multi-national companies.

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