2012 Olympic Games - are employers going to be as flexible as the gymnasts?

17 March 2011

On Monday this week, some 6.6 million tickets for the 2012 Olympics went on sale, with a further 2 million tickets for the Paralympics available from 9 September. Lord Sebastian Coe, the chairman of London 2012, said he was confident the Games would be a sell-out and it is difficult to argue otherwise.

London employers have already begun to think about the inevitable increased demand for annual leave and absenteeism over the two week period next summer.

Out this week is a survey of 201 London businesses by the business advisory firm, Deloitte. This suggests that one third of companies will allow flexible working patterns during the Games, so that staff can watch the events live and catch up on work before or after the normal working day. Additionally, 30% of employers say they will be understanding about staff who arrive at work late as a result of Olympic traffic. 11% will actively encourage people to have meetings outside London while 8% indicated that they will support staff who wish to work from home.

Although there are just under 500 days until the start of the Games, (despite the technical hitch with the official countdown clock in Trafalgar Square on Tuesday), the City is taking steps to plan now. The Independent reported this week that “at least two of the four big banks are understood to have set up internal working groups to find ways of helping staff work remotely, as access to the capital’s financial district is likely to be difficult during the Games”

It appears that London businesses are making a significant effort to embrace flexible working practices. But will this attitude extend further than the summer of 2012?

Initially, the right to request to work flexibly was only available to employees who care for children under the age of 6. Despite a subsequent extension of the right to carers of children up to and including 16, there has not been a significant take-up by employees, and the grounds on which an employer can refuse a request have not proved unduly restrictive.

It is plain that the Coalition Government supports flexible working. Both parties’ manifestos stated the intention to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees. We now know that that the right will be extended to all parents with children under 18 with effect from 6 April 2011, and that the Government will consult on how to further extend the right later this year.

History suggests that the further legislative changes will not greatly impact on flexible working in practice. But perhaps the London Olympics and Paralympics will go further than policy and provide an opportunity for both employers and employees to put flexible working practices to the test.

For more information, please contact a member of our employment law team.

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