When the Olympics hit London this summer, many employers could be facing a number of HR issues, from unauthorised absences to disruption and misconduct. The key to dealing with such issues is to opt for prevention rather than cure – by planning ahead and following this to-do list, employers could avoid a number of potential pitfalls, whilst also utilising the Olympics’ potential to boost to employee morale.
Review, Refresh and Relay Workplace Policies
Ensure that workplace policies are up-to-date and cover all employee behaviour that might be affected by the Olympics. These are likely to be policies related to, for example, absence and computer usage. For some issues, it may be more appropriate to create a short-term policy that specifically deals with the Olympics, e.g. approach to watching the Games during working hours. Communicating policy updates to employees, making employees aware of additional monitoring during the Games and explaining the consequences of not following correct procedure should help to reduce unscheduled absence and unauthorised conduct.
Employers should not wait to start talking about policy updates, particularly those to do with managing leave and working hours. To help prevent unexpected absenteeism during the Olympics, employers need to communicate to employees that they should book annual leave well in advance of the Games, applying your usual authorisation methods, e.g. "first come, first served".
Plan for Problems with Travel
Employees, particularly those based in London, may have difficulty getting to and from work during the Games. Employees should be made aware of the need to follow company procedures by notifying their employer about unauthorised absence and transport disruption. Employers may require that employees take reasonable steps to find alternative means of getting to work, but should also consider how they can be more flexible themselves.
Employers should consider whether or not flexible working arrangements during the Olympic Games would be suitable for their business, e.g. varying start and finish times, allowing remote working and allowing working at alternative office locations.
Flexibility could also be considered in respect of allowing longer lunch breaks so that staff can watch events during the working day. Employers may also want to consider screening some Olympic events in the workplace, but in doing so should consider how to fairly choose which events to screen and should ensure that there is a television licence for the premises. Giving staff the flexibility to watch certain events should boost morale whilst also reducing absence.
Also remember those who have no interest in the Games and who simply want time off to go away – you may need to be more flexible with your annual leave restrictions so that it doesn’t appear that sports fans only are being favoured.
Sort Out Sick Days
Despite best efforts to deter absence ahead of the Games, employers may still find an increased rate of absence. Remind employees of your sickness notification requirements and the fact that return-to-work interviews will be carried out on a consistent basis to monitor the reasons for absence. Where an employer has strong evidence that an absence was not genuine, it should be addressed as a disciplinary matter.
Develop a Discipline Plan
Instil in employees that, whilst you are willing to be more flexible during the Games, you still expect employees to stick to the rules and anyone found to be taking advantage will be dealt with. Stick to your contractual disciplinary procedure to avoid claims of breach of contract, and always ensure that investigations into alleged misconduct are properly and fairly investigated.
It should be highlighted to employees that not everyone will be supporting Great Britain in the Olympics. Employers should be aware that sporting enthusiasm can sometimes turn into racist or sexist abuse, which must not be tolerated. Employers should make sure it is known that equality and harassment policies apply as much to discussions at work about sport as they do to any other subject.
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