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Get ready for the Olympic Games: what you need to do

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With only 6 months to go until the start of the Olympic Games in London this summer (July 27, 2012), businesses should be pretty advanced in terms of planning for the impact of the games on their company’s workforce.

What are the key issues that business owners need to think about?

Your employees will fall into two groups:

  • Those who plan to take time off during the games either to be a spectator or because they have volunteered to be a “games maker”
  • Those who do not plan to take time off during the games but may still want to watch TV or internet coverage during working hours

Employees requesting time off

In relation to the first group of employees, employers need to think about how to prioritise requests, while ensuring that sufficient staff will be at work to meet the business’s needs. 

There will need to be a policy in place, which could be as simple as “first come, first served” or it could be dependent upon how many employees in the same department have requested leave at the same time. 

Guidelines should be clearly communicated to staff and must be consistently applied to avoid allegations of unlawful discrimination. 

Employees who volunteer

In relation to volunteers, employees do not have a legal right to take time off or to be paid for volunteering, so a policy decision is required as to whether the company is prepared to pay them for some or all of the leave. 

Volunteers have to complete three days’ training prior to the games and will have agreed to do ten days’ work during the games. Therefore, volunteering employees may be required to take their volunteer leave as paid holiday or unpaid leave or a combination of both. 

If employers have a corporate social responsibility policy and, for example, allow employees to take up to two days’ paid leave for charitable or community work, they may wish to allow the volunteers to use this allocation, particularly if the skills they will acquire in volunteering could help your business. 

Watching the Games during work hours

For those staff who may want to view the games while at work, it will be advisable to have a clear policy in place also. Check the terms of your internet policy carefully now and think about any amendments that may need to be made. If overuse of the internet at peak times to watch popular sporting events may slow your systems down, you may need to amend your policy to deal with this. 

One option is to show popular events at work on a big screen, provided that employees know that they are required to make up any time lost as a result of watching these events.

Sickness absence policies

Sickness absence policies should also be reviewed in anticipation of staff pulling “sickies” in order to stay home and watch their favourite sporting events on TV. 

You should make it clear that you will be monitoring sickness and all absences closely during this period and any abuse of the system will be treated as a disciplinary offence. 

Consider amending your policy to provide that during the Olympics, employees will be required to obtain a fitness certificate from their doctor from day one of their sickness absence, and any unauthorised absence will be unpaid.

Flexible and remote working

Lastly, there is also a risk that employees may suffer disruption while travelling to work during the Games period, particularly if their start or finish times coincide with start and finish times of sporting events. 

Most stations in central London and the City will be adversely affected by congestion during peak times. Introducing flexible working during the Olympics is an option. 

At the moment, flexible working is only available to carers and parents of children and any flexible working request which is granted constitutes a permanent change to the employee’s contractual terms. If employers extend the right to work flexibly to all employees during the games, therefore, it should be made clear it is only for that period without constituting a permanent contractual change. 

Employers may also want to consider remote working during the Games, with attendance at work only being required for meetings. Again a clear policy is recommended. 

Michelle Chance is an employment partner at Kingsley Napley LLP.

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