In a timely judgement given the imminent start date of the first winter World Cup, a tribunal has ruled that even lifelong support of a football team does not amount to a belief that can be protected under the Equality Act, 2010. While this will have been disappointing for the claimant, Mr McClung, it is almost certainly a sensible ruling from a legal perspective. But it cannot be denied that the arrival of the World Cup on Sunday is likely to add a certain level of tension in the workplace. A limited amount of banter and competition can be good for morale, but there is clear potential for this to cross the line into discrimination and harassment based on nationality or gender (for example if there is an assumption that perhaps women don't know anything about or have any interest in football and are not given an equal opportunity to participate in flexible working for the period or to take annual leave), and, of course, both of these ARE a protected characteristic, with a risk of more well founded claims than Mr McClung's arising as a result.
Furthermore, there are performance management issues that can arise if people are thought to be slacking off to watch particular games or if they call in sick when they are refused annual leave to watch it or if they comment aggressively or frequently on social media, potentially bringing the employer into disrepute and failing to give work their full time and attention.
It is not too late to think about how you might handle these issues and to consider offering the opportunity to work more flexibly to accommodate an understandable desire to support a national team and have some fun, given the amount of stress that people are currently living with. But it is worth remembering that there will be people who may not be interested at all and who may be aggrieved at possibly having to carry those who are. Care should be taken to ensure that everyone gets to benefit from any accommodations made, if at all possible, and it is certainly worth drawing staff's attention to your various policies (particularly including social media, sickness absence and anti- harassment and bullying if you have them) so that they are aware that discrimination and harassment is not acceptable for any reason and abuse of an employer's flexibility and generosity during this period will be disciplined in the usual way.