It’s the World Cup — Do I Have to Work?


Mariana Villa da Costa – Littler Mendelson

On June 11, the world has seen the launch of one of the biggest sporting events – the World Cup, this year being hosted in South Africa.  The World Cup is a passion to millions and millions of people around the world, and a much anticipated month-long series of games that unfortunately, for those who love futbol (soccer)  like me, only happens once every 4 years.

Being Brazilian (a natural fanatic about the sport), but also being an International Labor and Employment lawyer, I found myself intrigued on how employers around the world are dealing with challenges in the workplace: limiting absenteeism, maintaining productivity and above all avoiding issues in regards to discrimination and keeping civility between employees.  So, I reached out to some of my law firm colleagues from the Ius Laboris Alliance and asked them to send me an overview on what has been going on in their countries for the past 20 days of tournament.  Here is what I found out:

South Africa

The host of this beautiful event has tradition and passion for soccer and put a lot of effort  and time to build new stadiums and improve infrastructure to support an event that receives millions of visitors.  Companies in South Africa also had to prepare themselves for dealing with their employees during the World Cup.

  • Most employers have been flexible with their employees during the World Cup so they have instituted “exceptional policies” to allow employees to watch the South African team (flexible work arrangements such as work from home). This has avoided massive and expected absences that the event normally causes.
  • Companies in South Africa are also encouraging teamwork (to have tasks being ready faster and sooner) and setting time off for watching soccer for those who meet some determined targets.
  • Also employers, knowing how important this event is for the country, are allowing  business meetings to be conducted by phone or video conference, so employees do not need to drive around the cities, and stress the already overburdened transportation system.
  • Another important measure is to place TVs in boardrooms or to allow employees to leave early or arrive late to watch their dear  South African team play at home.


In Argentina, another country fanatic for futbol, employers have also taken different measures to allow employees to enjoy the games and to avoid a major problem with absenteeism.  Argentinean employers have been doing the following:

  • For games that are played in non-working days, some companies have organized barbecues, picnics or similar solutions, invited employees and their families and projected the game in big screens. This solution boosts employee morale by providing a fun “family day”.
  • During working days, employers allow employees to begin the work day half an hour after the game was over, compensating the missed time by having employees work more on other days during the same week.   In addition, some employers project the game in the workplace; in this case, the employers would not request the lost time to be compensated afterwards.


My beloved country stops, every four years, to watch the World Cup.  This is one of the most expected events for Brazilians, besides “Carnaval”, so employers tend to be very flexible and understanding with the employees (because THEY also want to watch the games!).  So in Brazil, here is what is happening when the team is playing:

  • Employers set up big screens in the office, most of the time in a big area, since 95% of the workforce stops to watch the game. The celebration would normally come with employees being free to dress casually and wear Brazilian gear on the day of the game.
  • Most of the time, employers will not request employees to make up for the time they stop to watch the game.
  • For games of other countries, employers will normally request employees to take days off or vacation for that purpose. There is not so much flexibility on those cases.


Although Beckham is not playing for England, the games are always a hit in the country.  Although most English games were aired at night, some games, especially now that England is progressing for the round of 16, will be aired during working hours.  English employees are preparing themselves.  Check out below:

  • Employers are asking employees to request holidays (including half days) for game days (or the morning after!).  It is important, though, that the company maintain its “holiday policy”, for example by asking employees to give notice for the days of absence.  If no policy is in place, the “Working Time Regulations” should be followed (giving notice equivalent of twice the number of days the employee wants off).
  • Also, employers in England are offering flexible working arrangements, involving an early start and finish time, or allowing a later, extended lunch break.
  • As seen elsewhere, the solution of having a TV in a canteen or shared area for the employees to watch the games is also present in England.
  • In England, employers worry about employees taking their national pride too far and getting involved in harassment, nationalistic jokes or banter.  The solution is to remind employees that any breach of its Diversity and Equal Opportunities Policies will be dealt strictly and when appropriate, handled as a disciplinary offence.


In Germany it is important to note that the usual principles of German employment law will apply unconditionally, even during the World Cup. German employers are more strict and they consider that employees should work even if the German team is playing.  Without the previous consent of the employer, employees have to fulfill their regular duties during working hours. Employees coming late to work or leaving early face the risk of being terminated.  Also, employers do not have the obligation to find solutions to enable employees to watch the games.  However, some of them have:

  • Encouraged the employees to take vacation during the weeks of the World Cup (it may be a risky consideration as may lead to dissatisfaction and disputes between employees).
  • Requested employees to make use of flexible working time (Gleitzeit).
  • Allowed employees to follow the games on the radio, as long as this does not affect the work of other employees.
  • Set-up a TV in the workplace for a public viewing.
  • Allowed the employees to watch the games online (respecting the normal guidelines on the private use of the internet). It is important to note that either while watching TV or using the internet, the employee is not supposed to continue working as this may cause conflicts with the laws on labor protection (Arbeitsschutz).


In the Netherlands, the World Cup is a big deal.  There is an interesting saying in the country that during the event  the “orangefever” breaks out!  During the first match in which the Dutch soccer team played, 1.5 million Dutch people took a day off.  Millions of people watched the game in their workplace. During previous tournaments, there has always been a substantial increase in the number of sick reports and unauthorized absences on working days around the days the Dutch team played.  Therefore, employers in the Netherlands must take strict measures.

  • Companies need to inform employees that they are expected to come to their workplace during the World Cup.  However, they normally would give them the opportunity to exchange shifts between themselves and to decide on flexible working arrangements.
  • If the employer suspects that the call from an employee reporting being sick is not real, it can request the “working conditions service” to perform an inspection at the employee’s home to verify if s/he is really sick. Beware employees!  If the employee is not at home or is, but ‘accompanied by beer and friends dressed in orange’, he risks an instant dismissal.
  • Most employers give employees the opportunity to watch the match in the workplace.  Often employers and employees agree to make up for the lost time later.


Slovakia is playing very well in this World Cup, and has surprised everyone with an important victory over Italy, sending them to the Round of 16 (and eliminated the reigning world champions!).  So how are employers dealing with the growing excitement of their employees?   Let’s see:

  • Employers do not consider the World Cup as an obstacle.  Therefore, employees are not entitled to any specific benefits  (i.e., they must work).  However, some employers have taken some voluntary measures such as extending the break for resting, or allowing some special time off during the day that will allow employees to watch the games.
  • Again, providing a TV in a common area or conference rooms has become common in Slovakia, but employees must make up for the lost time on the same day (or maximum within the same week).


Futbol is a huge deal in Spain, not only during the World Cup, but always. The Spanish are known for their passion for the sport that is played throughout every year in different European championships.  Spain is always one of the favorite teams to win the Cup, so we know that employees will be following the action closely.  Employers in Spain are not taking any special measures, but still allow a lot of flexibility in the workplace:

  • Employees are normally allowed to watch the game in the workplace and they do not have to account for the missed hours.
  • If necessary, some employers may allow employees to go home earlier to watch the game.
  • Most employees do not issue any communication or special memos to define the above.  All is negotiated and discussed very informally.

United States

For Americans, the World Cup still does not have the same bombastic effect that it has in other countries. Americans are not caught up in the month-long fever and, consequently, employers do not have to deal with the same huge issues that occur in other countries.  However, this year, the World Cup has had most of its games aired during prime US working hours (between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m), so employers in the US have been experiencing some of the excitement (and disruption) as other countries do.  As a true “melting pot” culture, there are many individuals who root not for the US team, but for their home country or the country of their families.   Here’s what US employers have done in the last days to cope with the situation:

  • Due to the number of games being streamed live over the internet, most employers have sent memos and “reminders’ of their internet use policy.
  • Some employers have used the event as an opportunity to create an employee relations win-win situation by setting up a TV in a break room and providing food during the US games.
  • Flexible work arrangements have also been used, so employees can take off a couple of hours to watch their favorite team. Companies will normally request the employee to make up time by coming in early or leaving late that day. This may help avoid excessive absenteeism.

Hope you had fun with this post, and learned how some countries deal with their workforce in special situations. Please send us your comments and questions about the countries discussed above or any other.  We will be happy to assist! And good  LUCK to your favorite team in the World Cup!

A special thanks to my wonderful colleagues of the Ius Laboris Alliance that were phenomenal in sending me information for their countries.  I would like to give my kudos and appreciation to:

My colleague Mike Mankes from the Boston office of Littler Mendelson

Philip Naben and Catherine Krepel from Bronsgeest Deur Advocaten (Netherlands)

Inigo Sagardoy and Martin Godino from Sagardoy Abogados (Spain)

Jaroslav Skubal from PRK Partners (Slovakia)

Michael Burd from Lewis Silkin (England)

Markus Bohnau and Jan Ricken from Kliemt & Vollstädt (Germany)

Eduardo Vinãles from Funes de Rioja & Asociados (Argentina)

Important Note:  This posting is intended to provide a brief overview of employment practices in the countries featured.  It is not intended as a substitute for professional legal advice and counsel.

More About Mariana

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Littler Mendelson


18 responses to “It’s the World Cup — Do I Have to Work?

  1. Angie Sullivan

    This was so interesting and so informative, I loved reading this article! I am from the United States (where as mentioned ) that not a great deal of importance is placed on “The World Cup” at all. It is very difficult to work when you’re beloved team is playing in the most amazing Sporting event in the World!!..I wish we could have the same flexibility and understanding that Brazil seems to have..I had to see that my beloved Italia (Forza azzurri) was eliminated early this afternoon over the internet news..I had taped the game but now can’t bear to watch. I will continue to watch the World Cup..on days off and before and after work.

    • marianavcosta

      Thank you so much Angie! So glad you liked the post! Brazil is very flexible as everybody – employers and employees love to watch the game. Even better if they can watch together! Good luck to all of us in the World Cup!

  2. Maxine T. McClellan

    Great post Mariana! I’m writing this as I’m sitting in Belo Horizonte Brasil watching the Brasil/Portugal game – Yup… the office is closed until the game is over.

    • marianavcosta

      Hi Maxine! How is Belo Horizonte with the celebrations for the Brazil games? As I mentioned in my post and you in your comment companies in Brazil stop to watch the game. Brazilians love it! So glad you enjoyed the post!

  3. Very interesting and informative for those who do not share “our passion” for the World Cup.

  4. Great post. If Brazil meets Argentina in the finals I don’t think anyone in the entire Southern Hemisphere will be “working” :). GOOOOL

    • marianavcosta

      Hi Nick! Thank you for your comment. That is true! I can’t imagine what will happen in case Brazil and Argentina go to the finals. We need to wait and see. Cheers!

  5. Gerome Mortelecque

    Being French living in brazil ( i wont make any comment about the performance 🙂 ) i know that the policy about the world cup and work in france is very much like the german’s one. Dare to miss work for a game and you will be fired. I spent 2 world cups in england and there i experienced 2 different policies, one very strict and another where a tv was in each room of the company playing every game. Well just my department had more 7-8 different nationalities. Second world cup in brazil, i am always amazed to see a city like são Paulo dead when brazil in on. I hope to see what would it be if they won

    • marianavcosta

      Hi Gerome! You have had different experiences in different countries during the World Cup, so you know what I am talking about! But Brazil is definitively the country that takes the World Cup very seriously. A Brazilian game is an almost sacred event!

  6. Great article!!
    Being brazilian as well, know that no one here would even think about working during any Brazil game.
    As seen in different countries, policies should be adapted to regional habits – this will surely make employees happier, more effective and motivated.
    Congratulations for the article!

    • marianavcosta

      Hi Hugo! Thank you so much. Happy that you enjoyed the article. It is very true, in Brazil people really stop whatever they are doing, including work, to watch the World Cup! I cannot imagine how that would be in 2014 when the Cup will be hosted in Brazil. Cheers!

  7. Ken Condit

    Loved the post Mariana! Living in Brazil now for just over a year and being a big fan of sport, I can feel the vibe everyone has for the Brazilian National Team. Even those who say they hate soccer in general, when it comes to Kaka, Robinho and the rest of the national team, it is suddenly “everyone’s” passion. Also during the game there is nobody in the streets. Go Brazil and “don’t cry for me Argentina….”

  8. This was really interesting to read about how different countries deal with this problem. It must have taken some research on your part!

  9. A very interesting and informative post. keep it up !!