London 2012 Olympics - How can you prepare as an employer?
Whilst it is exciting to have the focus of the world on London for the 2012 Olympics, as an employer of staff in London at this time, there are various causes of concern which may arise. These are likely to include:
- Will the workforce be distracted by the Games and try to watch it on their computer screens/elsewhere at every opportunity?
- Will there a lot of requests for holiday during the Games?
- Will there be a higher than average number of absences?
- How will travel of members of staff be affected by the Games?
Whatever does actually happen, it is useful to have thought through the various eventualities and prepare for them. If they do not occur or are not as bad as anticipated, that can only be a good thing!
Employees are entitled, as a minimum, to 28 days holiday (inclusive of bank and public holidays). Although employees hope that they will obtain their requested holiday, it is possible, as the employer, to refuse certain requested holiday, provided that you are not preventing the employees from taking statutory holiday over the year. The reason why more than the usual amount of holiday requests could come in for the period of the Olympics could be:
- Employees have tickets to see the Games
- Employees have been accepted to work as volunteers
- Employees want to get away from the Games altogether and go abroad!
It would be advisable to gain an early commitment to holiday of whatever nature, but in particular ask employees to identify firstly whether they have tickets and secondly whether they have volunteered. It will then be easier to manage the process and to decide whether it might be necessary to refuse certain holiday requests. Clearly the odd day requested to attend the Games with tickets is less likely to be an issue than the commitment to volunteering. It is not yet clear whether tickets might become available on the day for certain events. It will be necessary to decide what stance might be taken in the event of this occurring and last minute requests being made.
Currently individuals have been asked to volunteer and to give an idea of their commitment in this regard. Although it has now been confirmed as to who the volunteers will be and whether or not they will be helping at both the Olympics and Paralympics, there has been no confirmation yet of the exact rotas which will be operated. Therefore the number of hours or days to which those individuals will actually be asked to commit is not yet known. However, it will be known in advance of the Games starting. It would therefore be advisable to not only ask employees whether they have volunteered, but also require them to identify the rotas and provide evidence of this.
It has been emphasised in the paperwork provided to volunteers that it is entirely voluntary even if a commitment has been made to volunteer. Therefore if pushed, employers could refuse to allow employees to go. The extent to which such refusal will be necessary would no doubt depend on the employees concerned and how vital they are to the business. This would need to be weighed up against the individual requesting to do a worthwhile task for London. Even if employers do commit to supporting volunteers doing their rotaed hours for the Games, there is no problem in at least emphasising to individuals that they should take a sensible view of agreeing to their rotaed hours depending on their workload. Their day job should, after all be the priority. If you have a number of volunteers, it would be worthwhile producing a memo of do’s and don'ts for volunteers.
From a holiday perspective for volunteers, it should also be made clear that annual holiday must be taken if those employees wish to be paid for that period. Although unpaid time off could be allowed by employers, we would strongly advise you not to do so, since this might complicate matters for other members of the workforce on future occasions. Legally, however, it is possible to allow this as long as it is clear on what basis leave is granted.
Coverage of the Games
Those members of staff who are not quite so committed to getting tickets or volunteering but who want to watch the Games, could potentially be more disruptive. This may be due to employees taking unauthorised time off during the day to find coverage of the Olympics at a local hostelry, who surreptitiously try to watch it at their desk on their computer, or at a more extreme level, take time off and pretend to be sick.
Employers need to decide what stance to take in dealing with coverage i.e. whether some coverage of the Olympics is actually provided to the employees during office hours, for example a television is set up in a board room and employees can watch during their lunch hour. It is possible that employees will be encouraged to participate in networking events as part of the Olympics, in which case watching the Olympics at this time would clearly be allowed. It would be advisable to set out some ground rules as to what is and is not allowed so that employees are clear. This should be done in writing. Prior to this it may be worthwhile gauging employees interest in the Olympics by sending round a questionnaire. This may enable employers to anticipate problems.
It is not certain as to whether employees will use the Olympics as an excuse to take unauthorised sick days or even if authorised they may be self certificated and not genuine. The way of dealing with this is to make sure that back to work interviews take place even for quite short absences if possible. Also providing coverage in the office may help to alleviate this problem together with making clear that it would be likely that employees will be subject to disciplinary action if there was a reasonable belief that any such absence was not genuine. Prompt chasing of doctor’s certificates/fit notes would also be advisable.
In relation to absence due to travel disruptions caused by the Olympics, it should be emphasised by the employer that every effort should be made by employees to come into the office and that employees will only be paid for a day of travel disruption if it can be verified that it was impossible to find a way into work. If at home, that individual would still be expected to work from home if at all possible. It is likely that travel disruptions will also be well reported, so it is possible that an employer can check up the employee’s story if unconvincing.
Although employers probably want to be supportive of the Olympics coming to London, and to be seen to have that positive outlook to its employees, nevertheless a little preparation could go a long way in causing minimal disruption to local businesses. It can be possible to encourage your workforce to engage with this exciting event, without costing you a great deal more in terms of man hours. A total ban or being too obstructive in allowing time off or any coverage of the most popular events, is likely to have an adverse reaction from your workforce and lead to an undesirable aftermath.
Should you need any assistance in drafting a questionnaire for your workforce or a memo to employees with do’s and don’ts surrounding the Olympics, please contact a member of our Employment Team at Davenport Lyons.