Employers need to act now to avoid disruption caused by absence and misconduct during the 2012 Olympics. Kate Bland, associate solicitor at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, provides a checklist for employers.
Refresh workplace policies
Employers should consider reviewing and refreshing their workplace policies to ensure that they are up to date and cover all employee behaviour that might be affected by the Olympics. Where existing policies do not appropriately deal with employee conduct during the Olympics, employers may wish to develop a short-term policy that specifically deals with conduct during the Games (this may include details of the employer’s approach to time off, unauthorised absence and watching the Games during working hours).
In particular, prior to the start of the Olympics, employers should ensure that they have a clear sickness absence policy in place, coupled with effective ways of monitoring and recording absences. This may help to reduce unscheduled absence as employees will be aware that there will be additional monitoring of absence during the Games.
Focus on communication
To prevent employee absenteeism during the Olympics, employers should communicate to employees that they should book annual leave well in advance of the Games. Employers may choose to adopt a “first come, first served” policy to manage attendance. It is important that employers communicate to employees the consequences of misconduct (including unauthorised absenteeism) during the Games.
Prepare to manage “sickies”
Employers often find an increased rate of absence during special events such as the Olympic Games, so they may consider putting in place a requirement that employees who are sick on key event days (or the following day) provide medical evidence (such as proof that they have visited a GP). Return-to-work interviews should 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, this should be addressed as a disciplinary matter.
Prepare for travel delays
Employers should plan how to deal with employees who have difficulty getting to and from work during the Games. Employers may require that employees take reasonable steps to find alternative means of getting to work and/or working remotely. Employers can insist that employees follow company procedures for notifying unauthorised absence and/or transport disruption.
Explore flexible working
Employers should consult with employees at an early stage to discuss their flexible working policy during the Olympics. According to the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, in Sydney, 24% of employees changed the number of hours they worked during the 2000 Games, and 22% worked remotely. Employers should consider whether or not flexible working arrangements during the Olympic Games would be suitable for their business. Flexible working could involve varied start and finish times, remote working and working at alternative office locations.
Screen the action
Employers should consider screening some Olympic events in the workplace as this could be a good way to improve employee morale and engagement, and may also discourage absenteeism. If employers plan to screen the Games they should make sure that their place of business has a television licence.
Publicise policies internet use
Employers have different approaches to computer usage. For example, some prohibit the use of live streaming or limit personal usage. It is advisable that the approach is made clear during the Olympics and employees reminded of any policy on IT and internet use.
Consider using informal warnings
Where an employee breaches an employer’s policy on absence or following the Games during working hours, the employer may wish first to raise it with the employee informally. If the employee’s behaviour persists, the employer should caution them that continued breaches may result in disciplinary action and, in some cases, dismissal.
To limit liability for discrimination and unfair dismissals, employers should ensure that they complete investigations into employees’ conduct and follow a fair and consistent procedure before taking disciplinary action.
Warn employees of the consequences of misconduct
Employers should make it clear in their disciplinary procedures that unauthorised absence and excessive watching of the Games will constitute misconduct that could lead to disciplinary action. Employers should consider outlining the circumstances in which absence will be considered unauthorised and where watching the Games will be considered excessive (such as where an employee fails to follow the normal absence reporting procedure or when an employee spends longer than their lunch hour watching the Games).
Kate Bland, associate, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer