So it is important that employers, by now, have planned for how they will manage their business throughout the Olympic period so as to avoid a major headache. Here we have answered some of the frequently asked questions from employers about the Olympics in case there are any last minute concerns.
“Are staff allowed to take time off whilst the Olympics are on?”
Whilst this might be an obvious answer for most people, it is worth explaining nonetheless that in almost all cases, the straight forward answer is no. Employees do not have a general right to take time off from work simply because a sporting event is on. However, staff members do have a right to request paid annual leave from work. With the Olympics being held here in the UK during 2012, it is likely that many employers will find themselves inundated with staff holiday requests all asking to have the same period of time off work, particularly if they have tickets or are Olympic volunteers .
But how many staff can be off at any one time?
This will depend largely on the employer’s operational requirements, and it is important to stress that whilst employees have the right to request annual leave, there is not an absolute right to take the time off, and rather, in almost all instances, any such request for time off need to be approved by the employer. An employer would be well advised to manage fairly the approval of holiday, perhaps operating on a first come first serve basis for time off or even drawing names out of a hat where too many staff want a particular day off.
“What do I do if staff members simply take the day off?”
If you have not authorised an employee to be absent from work, then as you would do for any absence, whether Olympics related or not, treat it as a disciplinary matter. The terms of your disciplinary procedure and your previous practice for addressing unauthorised absence will dictate how seriously you view the matter, but it would not be uncommon for employers to treat such absence as serious misconduct resulting in a high level of warning or, in some instances, even gross misconduct which would warrant summary dismissal.
“I am thinking of allowing staff to watch some of the Olympic events whilst at work – Is this okay?”
Although it would be a nice gesture to allow staff members time to support their Country and watch some sporting events in the workplace where they fall during an employee’s working day, it is important to be mindful it is a criminal offence not to have a television licence and failure to have and/or a public performance licence could result in a hefty fine and a court appearance.
Where you do have a television licence and you choose to allow staff to watch the games whilst at work, be clear that it is a one off occasion, and that they should not interpret this to be an occurring entitlement.
It is clear that many members of staff will be supporting Team GB throughout the Olympics; however, employers must be mindful that not all employees will be. As such, if you only allow staff to watch events that Team GB are involved in and not the team they choose which may be the team representing their nationality, you may find that you are operating an unlawful discriminatory practice on grounds of nationality.
Additionally, if you allow staff to watch only some of the events, this then sparks the question: should staff who may want to watch other events be allowed to watch those whilst at work? In light of these potential problems, what you initially consider to be a kind gesture may cause you more problems than it is worth. That said, as the Olympic Games are likely to cost employers significant amounts in poor productivity and high absence levels, it may prove beneficial to take a flexible approach to the Olympics and make allowances for those employees who wish to watch the games so as to avoid these problems.
“My staff members want to put Great Britain flags up at work – Will this be okay?”
This should generally be fine, however, be cautious not to restrict staff members putting up only Great Britain flags, as again, there may be supporters from other countries who wish to show support to their own countries team, and so if you allow flags to be put up, allow this to be a flag of any country not just Great Britain.
“My staff members are quite passionate about some of the Olympic events, and this may lead to some ‘banter’ in the workplace. Do I need to be concerned about this?”
With anti-discrimination law now covering a large number of grounds for discrimination, employers are wise to monitor the amount of banter in the workplace. Not only from a productivity point of view should an employer keep an eye of this, it is also important to watch out for derogatory comments being made about a person’s nationality as this could be tantamount to harassment under employment legislation. It is important to stress that whilst this may only have been intended as a joke, the provisions covering harassment in the workplace often ignore the intentions behind the comments, and rather, they just focus on the perceptions of the recipient.
“Some of my staff have expressed concern about being able to get in to work during the games because of the increase in people using public transport during the games. What can I do?”
If travel into work is going to be a problem, you may need to consider alternatives, for example, allowing staff to swap their shifts with people who are not affected, work flexible hours or where possible to work from home or perhaps at a different office location if the employee is happy to do this. Alternatively, where the needs of the business are not compromised and providing you give the specified notice to the employees, you could require them to take paid annual leave from their holiday entitlement for some or all of the duration of the games.
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