Is your firm fit for the Olympics?

Businesses need to consider how they might be affected by next year’s games, says ANDREW WEST, a partner at Gotelee Solicitors

YOU may think that it’s premature to be thinking about the Olympics now – after all, we’ve still got several rain filled weeks of summer to look forward to – but there are likely to be employment issues that you will need to think about in good time.

It is estimated that a global audience of four billion people will watch the opening ceremony on July 27, 2012.

With statistics showing that one in six workers would think about taking a sick day in order to watch the London 2012 Olympics, now is the time for you to start planning.

By starting this process early, you can manage employees’ expectations and minimise the impact on productivity.

Around 500,000 spectators are likely to attend the games each day, so a good starting point is to ask your employees if they have been lucky enough to secure tickets for any of the events. You need to consider what staffing levels you will need to cover multiple absences, and how you will manage whilst the games run their course.

You will need to decide what approach you will take if you get more holiday requests for particular days than you can accommodate, and communicate this to your staff. Will you take holiday requests on a first come first served basis or use a ballot? To what extent (if any) can you put in place cover arrangements?

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You will need to remind employees of your policy on unauthorised absence. Normally this means that failing to turn up for work or leaving early without a reasonable explanation is a disciplinary matter. You should also remind employees of your procedures for reporting sickness absence. If you don’t have a set procedure for this, put one in place now.

Think about how you will deal with a request for time off to watch an event if you are given very short notice. Allowing time off at short notice could set a precedent and could cause serious disruption. It could lead to resentment if one employee is given time off to watch an Olympics event, but another is refused time off to watch some other event, whether connected with the Olympics or not. You should also ensure that you do not give precedence to those wanting to watch Team GB games, as this could give rise to arguments of unlawful discrimination.

The Olympics needn’t be a negative experience for employers, who can use it to their advantage to boost staff cohesion and morale. One way of doing this, which might also reduce unauthorised absence, is to set up a TV in a communal area that employees can watch during breaks.