The Olympic and then Paralympic Games run from 27 July to 9 September 2012. The number of employees expected to want to attend and/or watch at least some of the events on television during this period is such that, without some advance planning, employers could find themselves short staffed and/or with dwindling productivity levels. This month’s Q&A therefore takes a look at some of the HR issues that employers need to be preparing for now.
Q. What are the main issues that are likely to arise from an HR point of view?
A. The sorts of HR issues that are therefore likely to arise include:
* a surge in applications to take holiday during all or part of the Games;
* employees wanting to take time off in order to be a volunteer at the Games;
* employees who do not wish to utilise their holiday entitlement or whose request for holiday has been turned down and instead ‘pull a sickie’ in order to be able to watch the Games;
* increased use of the employer’s IT network in order to watch or catch up on Olympic coverage online, whether during or outside of working hours;
* if the employer is based near to an Olympic venue, travel disruption in terms of employees getting to and from work; and
* employees who are not interested in the Games feeling like they are not being treated fairly.
Q. What can an employer do to protect itself against unauthorised sickness absence during the Games?
A. The areas that an organisation should consider in order to protect itself against such unauthorised absence are two-fold:
* Sickness Absence Policies and Procedures — employers should take this opportunity to review and, where relevant, tighten up sickness absence policies and procedures in order to deter unauthorised absence. The sort of rules that need to be considered include sickness reporting procedures, return to work interviews and the consequences of taking unauthorised sickness absences.
* Consideration of alternative ways of giving employees access to the Games – another way of reducing unauthorised absence is to look at ways of flexible working during the Games or screening some of the major events in the workplace so that employees do not feel tempted to ‘pull a sickie’. This also presents the employer with an opportunity to gain brownie points with staff at very little cost.
Q. How can an employer plan for a surge in applications to take holiday during the Games?
A. In order to avoid discontentment brewing among employees and/or allegations being made of favouritism towards requests for leave to watch the Games, it is important that an employer considers the rules that it wishes to apply for the requesting and taking of leave during the Olympics and that it notifies employees of those rules well in advance (e.g. as soon as possible). The policy to be adopted may range from a simple ‘first come, first served’ basis subject to any specified minimum staffing requirements, to a more complicated ballot system.
Q. What can an employer do in terms of managing a potential surge in employees wishing to use its network to access the internet coverage of the Games?
A. Employers should first review their existing rules and/or IT policy and consider whether it is simply a case of reminding employees of the existing rules and the consequences of breaking them (e.g. disciplinary action); or whether specific rules need to be introduced for the duration of the Games. In either case the rules should be clear and consistently applied.
Q. What should an employer do if an employee requests time off in order to be a volunteer at the Games?
A. An employee has no legal right either to take time off in order to be a volunteer or to be paid for any leave that they take off that is not taken as paid holiday. However, many employers realise that volunteering at events such as the Games can improve their employees’ skills and engagement upon their return to their employment, and therefore look favourably on volunteering as a way of enhancing their organisation. In any event, if an employer suspects that there may be employees within its organisation that have applied for and/or have been accepted as a volunteer at the Games, a clear policy applying across the organisation should be published so that employees are clear as to how any applications for time off in order to volunteer will be dealt with.
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