On Your Marks, Get Set, Go: Managing Attendance During The Olympics
Last month, a host of athletes and MPs marked the one year countdown to the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, describing it as the “Greatest Show on Earth”. Notwithstanding that this is the moniker of the Barnum & Bailey Circus, it is certainly a massive sporting event that will attract the world’s attention for three weeks next summer.
With London hosting the Olympics for the first time in 74 years, London Mayor Boris Johnson and Prime Minister David Cameron have both stated that Londoners will need to be prepared for some disruption to their daily routines, as hundreds of thousands of tourists, volunteers, journalists and athletes descend on the city. But it is not only individuals who may be affected.
Exactly 366 days before the Opening Ceremony (don’t forget, it is a leap year), the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) issued online guidance to employers on getting the best from their staff and avoiding absence during the Games. They have warned businesses that employee attendance and productivity can be affected if managers have not planned how to deal with these issues well in advance.
Some employees may be part of the lucky few who managed to get their hands on tickets to one of the events. If so, employees have little excuse for not requesting annual leave well in advance. Most people know by now which events they will be attending, and remaining tickets, including those for the Paralympics, will be released many months before the Games take place. Employees should request leave in line with their employer’s usual procedures.
Additionally, some employees may have volunteered to assist at the Games. Many volunteers will be agreeing to ten days work plus three days’ training. This should ideally be agreed in advance, and employers have been encouraged to allow staff the time to volunteer, with ACAS stating that volunteering help develop employees' skills. This will of course need to be balanced against the interests of the business.
Employers who do not allow flexible working could be faced with an increase in sickness and unauthorised absences. It will be important for employers to make it clear to their employees how unauthorised absences will be dealt with. Employers should remind staff of their absence reporting procedures, and explain that any absence that has not been authorised will not be paid. It may also be useful to state that if there is a discernible pattern of unauthorised absences this could lead to disciplinary action. Employers could emphasise that absences will be monitored with greater scrutiny during the tournament.
The majority of workers will not be lucky enough to be attending the Olympics in any capacity. The only way they can feel a part of the Games will be by watching the events on television. ACAS have advised employers to be flexible, for example by altering start and finish times and allowing longer lunch breaks so that staff can watch events during the day. The offer of flexible working may encourage staff to ensure their workload is dealt with before heading off to see the world’s fastest and strongest perform. It is generally accepted that providing some flexibility will actually discourage unauthorised absences and minimise the disruption to the business. Employers may even wish to allow staff to have flags or banners in the office to raise morale and get into the Olympic spirit, as long as this would not offend anyone else.
An alternative to flexible working could be providing a television in the office to allow staff to watch some of the more popular events, or allow them to stream live video or radio coverage from the internet and have this available on their screens whilst they are working. It would need to be made clear that this was a one-off for the Games and does not change the employer’s IT usage policies.
There may of course be people who are fed up of the whole rigmarole and do not understand what the fuss is about. Employers should be careful not to provide too much freedom to those employees who wish to watch the sporting events without also catering to those who have no interest in sport.
If employers prepare early enough, the Games will cause minimum disruption to their businesses. Employers may wish to start reviewing their policies now rather than waiting until next summer. After all, preparing a business for the challenges of the Olympics is most definitely a marathon, not a sprint.
12 August 2011 - This article was first published as part of our Employment Law Updates. To subscribe, please email email@example.com.
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