An Olympic headache for employers?

Author: Mike Tremeer

The long anticipated Olympic Games (Games) are finally arriving in London in July 2012. Whilst many Londoners are excited at hosting such a prestigious sporting event, employers face legitimate concerns that disruption for staff and their day to day operations may spoil the occasion.

By planning ahead and preparing for the inevitable consequences of the Games, it should be possible to avoid the worst of the disruption.

Employee absence

Holiday leave is likely to be much in demand during the Games for members of staff who are volunteering at the Games, who wish to attend daytime events, or even from those who want to get away from it all. Employers should be considering now what minimum staffing levels are required and planning ahead to ensure that these are maintained. Any special arrangements for considering holiday requests for leave during the Games should be clarified to employees – for example, holiday leave could be limited to five working days to give the most employees possible the chance to experience the Games and associated festivities.

Companies should remember that the Working Time Regulations 1998 allow for employers to refuse holiday requests if necessary (for example, due to business requirements). Unless varied in a contract of employment or specific policy, notice of the same duration as the leave requested must be given to the employee – i.e. at least five days’ notice must be given to the employee to refuse a request for leave of five days’ duration.

With many events taking place during working hours, it is also possible that employers will see increased sickness absence during the Games from employees who did not request or were refused holiday leave.

To minimise such issues, employees should be made aware of sickness reporting requirements and that abuse of these may result in disciplinary action. Ensuring that employees are required to telephone line managers by a certain time (rather than leaving voicemails or text messages) if sick, should assist in deterring individuals from taking unnecessary sickness leave.

If it is considered that this will not be a sufficient deterrent, a temporary policy requiring all employees who are sick during the Games to produce a medical certificate or evidence that they have visited a medical professional could be introduced. However, such an approach is relatively heavy-handed and other options may be available, resulting in greater employee engagement.

Employers could consider granting unpaid leave to employees during the Games in order to allow them to watch their chosen events, which is likely to reduce unauthorised absence. For employers feeling the pinch of the economic difficulties, the opportunity to save salary costs by providing unpaid leave may be welcome – especially if it is expected that the business will experience a slowdown during the Games in any event.

Alternatively, a flexible working regime to allow time missed to be made up later in the week or month could prove popular with employees, although the administration and supervision of such a scheme to ensure that efficiency and production is not significantly adversely effected will create some obligations for the employer.

Transport disruption

Transport for London and the organising authorities have set an ambitious target that all Olympic spectators will travel to the events by public transport, on foot or by bicycle. Regardless of the success of this goal, significantly increased numbers of people in and around London will place extra strain on the transport systems in place.

Could employees be relocated on a temporary basis during the Games to avoid the travel chaos in London? Employers with other offices or premises within commuting distance should consider using them for this purpose, although regard will need to be given to any detriment this may cause to employees (i.e. increased commuting costs and time) and whether the place of work clauses in the relevant employees’ contracts allow for a temporary relocation.

Working from home, or otherwise remotely, should also be considered where this is possible. Employers should ensure that any home working policies and practices are up to date and that employees have access to internet, telephone or any other resources required for their role. Investigations into conference call, web conferencing and video conferencing facilities at this stage will quickly establish whether these are feasible and will ensure that employers beat any last minute rush for these services in the immediate build‑up to the Games.

A final consideration for employers as a result of the likely travel disruption is that of maintaining deliveries or office supplies. With Olympic travel lanes set to further constrict London’s roads to ensure that athletes and staff are able to make it to their destinations on time, such services will be affected. Sharing these services between local offices or neighbouring businesses could mitigate difficulties in this respect.

An opportunity not to be missed

It is not all bad news for employers, however, as the Games will present an opportunity for employers to engage employees in cost effective and enjoyable team building events. Even just offering employees the chance to gather together to watch key events during the working day could promote and develop internal communication and relationships. Some employers will also want to take advantage of the unique marketing opportunities that the Games offer.

Is it a big deal?

Notwithstanding some of the concerns which are looked at above, it is possible that the Games will not actually be as disruptive as feared for businesses. Most London-based organisations are expected to be affected in largely the same way and to the same extent by the Games. Indeed, it is likely that business nationwide will experience a general “slowdown” whilst the Games are ongoing.

The Opening Ceremony takes place on 27 July and the Games end on 12 August 2012 (it is not thought that the disruption during the Paralympic Games that follow the Games will be as pronounced) – a definite and relatively short period of only 17 days, which includes three weekends. The impact that such a relatively short period will have on business may be limited, especially given that dates of popular events are known in advance, enabling businesses to plan ahead.

Where disadvantage may be suffered is in failing to prepare for the Games and its consequences in advance. If competitors are better prepared, and are able to maintain or offer a better service during the Games, they may gain a competitive advantage which could be difficult to overturn, at least in the short term.

For further information, please contact Taj Rehal ( or Michael McCartney (

View by date:

View by author:

Would you like to hear more?