Managing your workforce: Getting your business in shape for the Olympic Games 2012

27 January 2012

With only 6 months to go until the start of the Olympic Games in London this summer, how advanced are your plans for dealing with the impact of the Games on your workforce? You don’t want to be left lagging behind at the starting block, whilst your competitors are already half way round the race track in terms of planning for the impact the Games will have on their business and staff.

ACAS has this week published guidance for employers and employees on the Games. In summary the key issues you need to think about are as follows:

Be aware that your employees will fall into two groups:

  1. those who plan to take time off during the Games, either because they will be a spectator at events, or because they have volunteered to be a “games maker”, and
  2. those who do not plan to take time off during the Games.
In relation to the first group of employees who want time off, either to be a spectator or as a volunteer, you need to think about how you will prioritise requests, whilst ensuring that sufficient staff will be at work to meet your business’ needs. You need to have a policy in place and it 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. Your guidelines should be clearly communicated to staff and must be consistently applied to avoid allegations of unlawful discrimination.

With regards to volunteers for the Games, you need to make a policy decision as to whether you are prepared to pay them for some or all of their leave. Volunteers will need to complete three days’ training prior to the Games and will have to agree to do ten days’ work during the Games. You could require such employees to take their volunteer leave as paid holiday or unpaid leave or a combination of both. If you have a corporate social responsibility policy and allow employees, for example, to take up to two days’ paid leave for charitable or community work, you may wish to allow the volunteers to use these paid days as community work, particularly if you feel that the skills they will acquire in volunteering could help your business. However, employees do not have a legal right to take time off or to be paid for volunteering.

For the group of employees who do not wish to take time off during the period of the Games, these individuals may still want to have TV or internet coverage during working hours to watch key events. You should check the terms of your internet policy carefully 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.

Another aspect to consider is that people coming into work during the Games may suffer disruption whilst travelling to work, 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 Olympic Games, i.e. changing people’s start and finish times, is something that you may wish to consider. 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. You should think about extending the right to work flexibly to all employees during the Games, without it constituting a permanent contractual change i.e. just for the specific period of the Games. You may also want to consider remote working during this period, with attendance at work only being required for meetings and so on.

You would also be well advised to review your sickness absence policies in advance and make any necessary changes to ensure that people who are not genuinely sick and are pulling “sickies” in order to stay home and watch their favourite sporting events on TV know that they will be disciplined for doing so. 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 medical certificate from their doctor from day one of their sickness absence, and any unauthorised absence will be unpaid.

The Games will provide unique marketing and networking opportunities for UK businesses, given the influx of key decision makers and business men and women who will be visiting London during this period. However, for HR directors, the Games will not be without its employee relations challenges. Just as our athletes need to train hard in order to succeed, preparation, advanced planning and clear communication in advance with staff will be key to ensuring that the Olympics is successful, not only for Team GB, but that the business community and its staff can emerge as “winners” too.

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