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World Cup banter can create tensions and set off claims of bullying and harassment

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British bosses are being warned that they could face discrimination, harassment and bullying claims if they allow footie banter to take a more nationalistic turn.

Research by YouGov for Croner found more than one in 10 working adults (13%) say that workplace banter around the World Cup and sporting teams can often lead to tension.

Tensions could arise from disagreements between sport fans and non-sport fans. Almost a quarter (23%) of working adults questioned admit that despite not being particularly interested in sports they still want to be given the same benefits as their colleagues who are sporting fans, such as flexible working arrangements, watching the TV in work hours and time off to go down the pub.

The research also highlights stark differences between age and gender groups. Unsurprisingly over a third of men (35%) think their employers should allow them to watch the games during working hours, compared with only 17% of women. The younger generation are also more interested in watching the World Cup at work, with 38% of under-35s wanting their employers to allow them to watch the matches during working hours, compared with only 12% of working over- 55s and almost one in five 45-54 year-olds (19%).

Liz Iles, senior employment consultant at Croner, said: "Employers may be thinking this year's World Cup will be less of an issue than in 2006 as many England games will be shown in the evening. However, the UK's population is incredibly diverse and they need to consider a number of workers who will be supporting other countries," says. "Employers could be at risk of bullying or harassment claims if someone's idea of a light-hearted discussion is interpreted quite differently by another member of staff.

"Of course employees will be discussing the tournament, and this will naturally involve conversations about nationalities and possibly race. Employers cannot control such discussions however they should be on the alert for any possible issues."

"Any potential unfair treatment can put an employer at risk of discrimination allegations. It is also important to note that, if an employer is considering putting special World Cup flexible working practices in place, this will need to be communicated to all staff in advance and they should consider having a formal policy in place to deal with this issue, thereby avoiding possible complaints of unfair treatment."

"While it is no surprise that not everyone is a football fan, it is interesting that these non-footie fans make up the majority of workers.

"Employers need to be careful not only to think about employees that have expressed an interest in watching the World Cup during working hours or receiving flexible working arrangements to catch the games. They need to make sure they open up these benefits to everyone, making sure to treat all employees fairly and consistently - otherwise they could be in danger of upsetting certain employees, which could lead to increased tension at work."