Olympics set to be HR nightmare, expert warns

WITH just under 150 days to go until the opening of the London Olympics, British bosses are being urged to act now or face a summer of chaos.

Many staff lucky enough to have bought tickets or arranged to volunteer at the Olympic Games have already started booking time off to ensure they make the most of the once-in-a-lifetime event.

But bosses have been warned that if they have not already put in place policies to deal with staff absence, now is the time to do so – or they risk a glut of complaints when workers have their requests for time off refused.

Peter Mooney, head of employment law at business support specialist, ELAS, said: “Every employer is bound to have some staff who want time off during the Games, whether that is to go to watch the events, to volunteer at them, or just to watch their favourite athletes compete on TV.

“But no business can afford to have too many people off at any one time, and from a manager’s point of view the most important thing is to be seen to be fair when deciding who to allow to take annual leave and who not.

“That means not only having a clear and robust policy on how you’re going to deal with requests for annual leave, but reminding staff about it well in advance.”

The simplest system is to grant annual leave on a first come, first served basis, Mr Mooney said. But in order to give everybody a chance, managers should write to their teams now explaining that that is the case.

Many managers will be able to afford to have more than one person off at a time, so then a decision needs to be taken about how many will be allowed time off at once – and whether any rules are needed around which people cannot take holiday at the same time.

In the case of two requests being made simultaneously, managers are allowed to use their discretion to decide which person to favour – such as giving holiday to someone with tickets over someone who simply wants to watch their favourite event on TV – but any such reasoning will then need to be applied equally in all similar cases or run the risk of a claim for discrimination.

Furthermore, with other sporting favourites such as Wimbledon, the European Football Championships and the Paralympics all being held this summer, any policy put in place for the Olympics must apply equally to other sporting events as well, Mr Mooney added.

Finally, once those policies are in place, staff will need reminding that any unauthorised absences during these times will be frowned upon.

He said: “This year promises to be a real summer of sport but that always brings with it a few headaches for managers.

“In every situation their only priority should be to be fair to everyone. Bosses need to set their stall out now, then stick to it – rigidly, if needs be.

“That means that if anybody applies for holiday, is refused it, then rings in sick on the day they wanted off, managers need to deal with that as a potential disciplinary offence.”

As well as time off, Mr Mooney also recommended tackling whether company drivers will be allowed to attach flags to their vehicles, and consider buying TV licences to cover anybody watching sports coverage online at their desks.