By Marcus Leach

As the 2012 Olympic Games draw closer businesses need to make plans now for how they're going to keep to a minimum the number of employees who call in sick when in reality they are attending the Games.

Absenteeism is said to cost UK companies around £32bn a year and a recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers showed that one in three workers took time off from work under false pretences and lied to their bosses about it.

But Bibby Consulting & Support (CAS) warns that the problem is likely to get worse with such a major temptation as the Olympic Games around the corner, in much the same way that so-called 'sickies' increased when the 2010 World Cup was on. As tickets will continue to exchange hands right up until the day of the events, they predict that rather than run the risk of requesting holidays, which could be refused; many employees will revert to “sickies”.

Just as a survey at that time found that 90 per cent of employers had no plans in place to manage increases in staff absence, there are fears the same could be the case in 2012 and it aims to work with companies to tackle this.

One solution, Bibby CAS Managing Director Michael Slade says, is for companies to tell their workforce well in advance of the Games starting that if anyone wants to take time off they would need to book annual leave in good time. Also, staff should be warned that if anybody is found to have taken unauthorised time off work to attend the Olympics they could face disciplinary action.

“There are lots of questions being asked by employers about the effect the Olympic Games might have on their workforce,” Slade says, "especially those companies with small to medium size teams where even authorised annual leave could seriously affect their organisation’s productivity.

“If an employee is absent from work without authorisation, that is a disciplinary matter which could result in a high level warning and in some cases dismissal.”

Also, allowing staff to watch the Olympics at work could backfire because it can be a legislative minefield when it comes to making gestures of this kind. Making sure that the business premises has a television licence is a small consideration, but if it is overlooked then it may well result in a hefty fine and possibly a court appearance.

And the issue of harassment could rear its head, especially if managers allow employees to put up flags of their various nations at work.

“There are some very important considerations for businesses when setting out policies for the Olympics,” Slade says, "and we are already providing advice and support for organisations who are genuinely worried how they will cope when the Games are on. We would urge all employers to think about these things now and avoid the inevitable staffing issues which will rear their head next summer."

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