By Allison Grant, Partner, for Lester Aldridge LLP
With less than a year to go until the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games, many businesses are looking forward to the new opportunities and prospect of increased revenue they have been assured the games will bring. However, it appears that many employers are failing to prepare for what is anticipated to be a largely disrupted summer for many businesses and their workforce.
With an expected 5.5m visitors to the capital in the summer of 2012, and thousands visitors anticipated to visit the other Olympic sites across Britain, many businesses and the Government alike are excited about the prospects of new business opportunities and ‘escaping’ the recession, which is still casting a large shadow over the British economy.
However, it has emerged that many employers are failing to prepare for the impact the games will have on their workforce, the infrastructure and needs of their business. The games will be, for most people, a once in a lifetime event and understandably a large proportion of the UK’s workforce will want to watch the Olympic events. Employers should consider whether they need to put in place arrangements to deal with the increase in demand for time off, and the difficulties some employees, clients and suppliers may have in travelling to/from businesses.
Employers may see an increase in requests to work remotely or flexibly during the period of the games — to enable them to watch coverage or perhaps, to avoid the potential travel disruption. Many employers will be wondering how to address this issue and whether they have to consider permitting flexible working during this unusual period.
The position on flexible working will largely come down to the employer’s own policy. In terms of legislation, there is only a duty on employers to consider requests for flexible working, where the request is made in connection with providing care for dependant adults or children. There is no such duty on employers to provide or consider flexible working for employees to attend ‘one off’ sporting events such as the Olympics, or World Cup for example.
However, ACAS have recently published guidance for employers who are struggling to decide how to deal with the difficulties that the Olympics will bring with regard to staffing levels and the provision of flexible working. The guide suggests that, where possible, employers should be flexible, for example permitting employees to work from home, alter their hours/break times or allowing employees access to a television during breaks.
With best intentions aside, where employees take unauthorised leave this may result in employers taking disciplinary action against them. Employers should also consider data protection, security and confidentiality aspects of allowing employees to work from home.
Although there are many types of work and roles where working from home or flexible working is simply not practical, for those where it is, there is an argument that in allowing flexibility, employers might boost morale amongst employees during this unusual time and perhaps increase productivity in the long run.
In addition, the ACAS guidance suggest that employers should communicate clearly with employees on how they are going to manage periods of leave and realistically set out what can and cannot be accommodated throughout the games. ACAS also specify that all requests for time off throughout the period of the games should be dealt with fairly.
Employers will have to bear in mind the additional logistical problems the games may impose, not only for staff, but suppliers and clients alike. Transport may cause problems particularly for those employers based in and around London (or other Olympic venues), and it is suggested that employers should perhaps make allowances for employees commuting to/from the most affected areas.
The games will quickly be upon us, however, in the meantime employers should use the remaining time running up to the games to ensure that they are properly prepared for the logistical difficulties that the games may pose, to ensure their businesses are as unaffected as possible. In doing so, it will mean employers are best prepared to take advantage of the many new business opportunities that the games may present.