Well, the 2022 World Cup is finally underway in Qatar. Although professional football doesn’t garner quite the same interest among the American population as, say, football (Go Ravens!) or basketball, the World Cup remains one of the world’s premier sporting events – and there are probably many employees who follow it quite closely. And unlike last time in 2018, Team USA qualified for the tournament, so there may be a bit of patriotism at play here. So we thought we could offer employers advice on World Cup issues in the workplace.
Productivity. The World Cup takes place over a month – starting on November 20 and ending with the final on December 18, often with multiple matches each day. Since games mostly take place during the workday in the United States, employees can check scores or even watch games during work hours, either on work computers or personal devices. Additionally, the increase in the number of remote employees increases the opportunities for unauthorized viewing.
Employers have a number of tools to solve productivity problems. There are aggressive options such as control and monitoring technologies. If employers choose to use these technologies, they must ensure that they are in compliance with state laws regarding electronic monitoring. For example, Connecticut and Delaware require employers to notify the use of electronic monitoring technologies. New York requires not only notice, but also written receipts from employees acknowledging such notice. It is therefore important for employers to confirm whether there are any applicable state laws. And frankly, giving written notice of oversight, for example through a policy, is a good idea whether the law requires it or not. It is especially important that these policies are clear and that employees have no expectation of confidentiality in their use of the employer’s computer systems and equipment.
But many employers feel that electronic monitoring creates a bad environment. Thus, another option for employers is to implement and enforce productivity standards and relevant policies, such as limitations on the use of personal devices during work time. It is important that these policies are applied consistently across all levels of the workforce to avoid any allegations of discrimination.
Presence. Relatedly and unsurprisingly, there is often an increase in attendance issues related to major sporting events. Employees can take time off work during the World Cup to watch matches – or recover from the celebrations (aka “hangover leave”). The proliferation of local and state sick leave laws is a complicating factor, as nearly all prohibit employers from requesting verification of sick leave usage if an employee is absent for less than two or three days. Unfortunately, the reality is that many employees can abuse these leave laws by calling in sick for reasons unrelated to illness, such as the World Cup. But employers should continue to enforce their attendance and on-call policies consistently. And if an employer finds out that an employee lied about the need for sick leave, they can discipline the employee for their dishonesty.
Cyber security. As we discussed in the context of March Madness, sports betting has exploded, with a significant majority of states having some form of legal sports betting. Some employees may access sports betting or watch sites through the employer’s computer systems and potentially expose the systems to malware. For example, employers may consider implementing a policy prohibiting the use of company computer systems and equipment for all or some personal activities, such as gambling or watching sports. The policy should also state that the employer can monitor employees’ computer use and, as mentioned above, that employees should not expect privacy in their use of computers. company systems and equipment. But, again, it is important that employers are consistent in applying these policies. Additionally, employers can block gambling and other inappropriate websites so that employees cannot access them on company systems.
Game in the workplace. Speaking of gaming, some employees might be interested in a pool of office brackets. Such pools may actually be illegal under some state regulations if not carefully structured, while federal laws prohibit betting between states – although realistically the chances of enforcement by federal or state authorities are quite weak (employers play on this?). As a general rule, in order to keep the workplace bracket pool out of the reach of state gambling laws, commentators recommend that all money that enters the pool go to the winner, so pool is more of a “contest” of skill in analyzing and predicting winners, rather than a form of gambling, where the bettor bets against the house.
But as we noted earlier, again in the context of March Madness, such pools can be a source of tension in the office. Some employees may not want to participate in a pool – they may have a religious objection to gambling, have a gambling addiction, lack the money to participate, or simply don’t like to gamble. These employees may feel either excluded or compelled to participate. Employees can also be bad losers or winners, which breeds resentment. Finally, having large amounts of cash floating around in the workplace is certainly cause for concern.
Dress code and civility policies. Similar to the Super Bowl or March Madness, if your employees are in person at the workplace, there may be issues with dress code and social interaction. Employees may wish to wear team jerseys, t-shirts or hats to show their support for their teams. Most employers will consider relaxing dress codes to allow for team wear. But there may be safety or health issues related to the use of machinery (manufacturing) or hygiene (such as healthcare or catering). Employers should consider and then clearly communicate what is considered acceptable for the workplace.
Moreover, people can deeply and passionately feel their teams. This level of passion can be problematic in the workplace. Employers can certainly ensure that employees do not engage in disruptive behavior or speech and that they treat co-workers and visitors with respect and courtesy. Again, these requirements must be applied consistently.
But what about employee morale? Opposite to all of these concerns and prohibitions, employers may wish to use the World Cup to boost employee morale, such as hosting watch parties for USA team matches. Another option is to allow some scheduling flexibility to allow employees to watch games they are particularly interested in – but be sure to extend this flexibility fairly to avoid complaints of discrimination. Employers can also sponsor a voluntary “no cash” pool open to everyone (it’s completely legal), with a small-stakes reward, like a gift card or a free lunch.
And now – Go to the USA!!!