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Published 18 June 2012

Seb Walker, a solicitor at Integra Legal Limited in Nottingham, highlights some of the HR hurdles that businesses may face during the Olympics and the solutions to deal with them to ensure that they win gold.

This year Londonwill be hosting the Olympic Games where, from 27th July to 12th August 2012, athletes and spectators from all over the world will be competing and watching the biggest sporting event this year.

It’s not just businesses inLondon, though, that need to have a game plan and be mindful of the impact the Olympics may have on their staff and business. Nor is it just the athletes who should be preparing now. Although businesses elsewhere across the country may not have to worry so much about travel disruptions, changes to Sunday working or staff volunteering to help at the Olympics for example, there are still some HR hurdles that businesses may have to face and which they need to plan now for in order to be on track for when the Olympics come.

Increased requests for annual leave. Businesses are likely to receive an increased number of requests for annual leave in the build up of the Olympics. It is important for businesses, if they do not already have one, to have a clear annual leave policy included in any staff handbook. Businesses should also review and, if necessary, update this policy in sufficient time before the Olympics to ensure that any increased requests for annual leave are managed appropriately. Probably the best idea is to have a first come, first served policy to encourage employees to make any holiday requests sooner rather than later. Nonetheless it may be wise to impose a deadline for annual leave requests before the Olympics if businesses anticipate this being a sufficient problem for them. Ultimately, the law regarding annual leave requests will be governed by the employee’s contract of employment or, alternatively, it will fall back onto the provisions of the Working Time Regulations 1998. Normally all holiday requests should be made with twice the amount of notice than the period of the holiday request ie. 1 week’s notice for 1 week’s holiday. Employers should act fairly and consistently when dealing with holiday requests. It’s also important to note that an employer is always free to refuse a holiday request, provided they do so reasonably, if it were to have a negative impact on their business. Employers should try to be good sports though in granting holiday requests for sport mad employees in order to not adversely affect staff morale. For instance, solutions to this problem could be to provide for a staggering of the staff rota allowing employees time off work whilst allowing the business to run sufficiently. Employers may also grant requests for flexible working allowing employees to come in earlier in return for leaving earlier to catch some of the sporting action.  Businesses could consider allowing employees to watch some of the Olympics down the pub during an extended lunch break, online via BBC iPlayer, or on the big screen in the staff canteen. Employers should consider the needs of non-sports fans though when providing any such concessions to staff.

Increase in unauthorised sickness absence. Some staff may be inclined to pull a “sickie” in order to secure a day off work to watch the Olympics, or if they have a hangover from watching the Games down the pub from the night before. Again, an effective sickness absence policy in a staff handbook should assist businesses in managing this problem. It is important that such a policy makes it clear that unauthorised sickness absence is a disciplinary offence. The policy should also make clear the procedure for reporting incidents of sickness absence, the medical evidence required (if any) and the return to work process. Businesses should carry out a fair disciplinary procedure against any employee who breaches this policy, whilst being mindful of the fact that some employees may happen to be legitimately ill during the Olympics.

Requests for alternative working patterns. Businesses may receive requests from employees to work from home over the Olympics. Whilst some businesses may be able to accommodate any such requests, a significant majority of businesses may not be able to. Allowing employees to work from home may pose several problems – not having the necessary IT system to allow staff to work from home, the inability of an employer to supervise the employee in their work and the potential breach of confidentiality if the employee takes work home with them. There are also health and safety issues to consider.

Regardless of any issues businesses face either in the build up to, or during, the Olympics, it should be an event enjoyed by all and one which we’re unlikely to see again on home soil. The key to success is to plan now, have clear policies and procedures in place and communicate well with staff.

I hope that this article will help you and your business in getting out of the blocks early and being the first to cross the finish line.

Let the Games begin!

Integra Legal Limited
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