FIFA World Cup may Raise Unexpected Issues at the Workplace
June 11, 2014
As many employers and human resources professionals are aware, large sporting events often coincide with spikes in employee absenteeism, decreased productivity, requests for time off, and disciplinary issues. This is particularly true for events that occur on an international stage, as they are usually scheduled and televised at local times, which may or may not occur during traditional work hours in the United States. As a result, employees may be tempted to take time off or stream these events at their desks. Even when the games or matches occur in American prime time, employees may come in late or hungover, as sports watching and alcohol often go hand-in-hand.
By many estimates, the FIFA World Cup is among the most watched sporting events in the world, and global information measurement company Nielsen reported that 111 million people in the United States watched some of the 2010 World Cup. As the 2014 Cup draws near, employers and employees should be aware of certain workplace issues that may arise during the tournament.
Potential Discrimination Issues
As an international tournament that rivals the Olympic Games in terms of national pride, the Cup may create or exacerbate nationalistic feelings. While some chiding and inter-office rivalry may be good for morale and fun, any time national origin is at issue employers are putting themselves at risk of being the subject of a discrimination claim. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race or national origin, and the term “discrimination” encompasses conduct such as the use of racial slurs or disparaging remarks made regarding a person’s country of origin. Employers should be cautious as the Cup approaches, and reiterate internal anti-discrimination policies to employees. In addition, employees who feel that they have been discriminated against or that their work environment has become hostile may be able to sustain a discrimination claim against their employer.
The nationalistic feelings brought out by World Cup matches may also come up in situations where an employee claims wrongful termination. Employees may not be terminated for a prohibited reason, such as race or national origin. In addition, the law prohibits terminations that are pretextual, meaning that an employer cites a legitimate reason for an employee’s termination in order to cover for another, unlawful reason.
If, for example, an employee began to openly root for his or her country of origin during the games and was fired shortly thereafter, he or she may have a claim for wrongful termination. Another scenario that may occur is one in which a an employee is retaliated against for drawing attention to discriminatory behavior or comments made in the context of World Cup conversations. This type of employer conduct is also prohibited by Title VII, and an employee may be able to sustain a retaliation claim against his or her employer if an adverse employment action occurs.