Absence Management during the Olympic/Paralympic Games

5 July 2012

How Employers can prepare for the Olympic/Paralympic Games, London 2012: reducing the disruption

Absence management may become a regular issue during the Olympic/Paralympic Games, London 2012. For enjoying the Games, here are some of the main issues and our tips.

The Games start on 27 July and if they haven’t already done so, employers need to plan for the impact this will have on their business and employee productivity. Absence management may become a regular issue.

The main issue causing disruption is likely to be either unscheduled non-attendance, which might be the result of travel delays or “sickness absence”, or more manageable absence from granting requests to work flexibly, homeworking or holiday requests. Employee productivity may even be an issue for staff in the workplace, as employers may also be providing access to the Games via the internet or communal TV screens.

Here are some of the main issues and our tips for enjoying the Games.

Employee Productivity
In addition to absence management, there may be management issues with employees in the office. If employees are spending too much time watching the Games during working hours, this should be handled through the disciplinary process (starting with an informal warning). An alternative approach is to ban watching the Games during working hours, but that course of action might be better left as a fall-back; the gold medal goes to the employer who through planning and communication with staff-minimises disruption without destroying enjoyment of this very special event.

Maintaining appropriate standards of workplace behaviour
If staff are watching events in the workplace, they are likely to express support for the national team. This can lead to inappropriate behaviour and even nationalistic banter. Ensure the company has an equal opportunities and anti-harassment policy in place and that employees know what kind of behaviour is unacceptable and may be dealt with as a disciplinary issue. Employers should be aware that ‘nationality’ is included in the definition of ‘race’ in the Equality Act 2010.

Travel delays
Try to anticipate these:

  • consider temporarily changing working hours, perhaps staggering start and finish times to try to avoid peak delays
  • communicate with staff to find alternative methods of travel

Is there a right to be paid if employees cannot attend work because of travel disruption/delay?
Maybe! This depends on a combination of legal rights. Basically is there a contractual right to be paid if the employee cannot attend work? This may not be spelt out clearly in the contract, and if there is no custom and practice to follow, the legal position in such cases is that wages are not payable unless the employee has done something in exchange. Often that means actual performance of work by the employee (particularly for piece-workers and hourly-paid employees) but for some types of employees (for example, salaried) it may just require that the employee is ready and willing to work if they are able. If they could not reach the workplace, then they may still be entitled to be paid. The answer will depend on the terms of the contract.

Temporary working from home/flexible working
If there are major travel disruptions as part of absence management, consider home/flexible working:

  • assess the impact of this on other parts of the workforce (can they do their jobs without the other member of staff being at work?)
  • check any existing policies on working from home/flexible working as they may already cover the issue but note also that there is a formal statutory right to request flexible working for employees who are carers
  • changes to employment terms and conditions may be required, so employees will need to consent
  • factor in the pressure that homeworking could put on IT systems
  • homeworking will also require health and safety risk assessments.

Holiday requests
Most employees will have applied for holiday already but if there are last minute competing holiday requests being made by those wanting to watch the Games, as well as by those with different interests, this could cause problems and employers need to manage competing requests and consider what are the essential staffing requirements. This is the ‘softer’ side of absence management. One way of dealing with more requests than there are holiday slots is to have a ballot, or pick names randomly out of a hat! But make sure everyone has had a chance to apply if they want to.

Sickness absence
Is the absence genuine? Employees should be reminded of the organisation’s policy and if there is likely to be a significant risk that the policy will be abused, changes to the sickness notification procedure may be useful, and/or a requirement to provide medical evidence of the illness for even short absences. As all HR staff will already know, short-term intermitted absences are already at the heart of absence management.