Weekly dilemma: Annual leave and the 2012 Olympics

A number of my staff have applied for tickets to the same events at the 2012 Olympics, where the tickets are allocated by a ballot. If one or two staff are off at the same time that won’t be a problem. However, if a number of them receive tickets for the same day I am worried that I will be left short. Is there anything I can do now to ensure that this doesn’t happen? None of them have yet applied for holiday as they don’t know what tickets they might get.

Many employers will receive requests next year for time off to go to the 2012 Olympics. This may present a problem, given that staff may want to attend on the same day as other staff, leaving employers with the risk of being short staffed.

Attending the Olympics is just an opportunity to take a holiday. Like Christmas or Easter, an employer needs to balance competing requests in a fair way as well as ensuring that its business is properly managed. Managing staff expectations is also important, to ensure that the business does not suffer disruption arising from unhappy staff disappointed at not having their holiday requests granted.

The first step is to check your employment contracts. Most well drafted contracts of employment permit employers to decide when holiday is taken and entitle them to refuse holiday requests where there is a business need for an employee to be at work on a particular date.

The Working Time Regulations 1998 (SI 1998/1833) allow employers to specify when employees can and cannot take leave. If you want to prevent employees taking leave at a certain time, you can notify the employees that this is the case. You must send a written notice to the employee specifying when an employee will not be permitted to take holiday.

Given that you’ve already anticipated a potential problem with the Olympics, it would be sensible to decide how you will ration holiday among your staff. It could be on first come, first granted basis, or picking names out of a hat where the same date is requested by another member of staff. Or you could suggest some other process of rationing. You might decide to provide some benefit for the losers of the Olympic absence event. For example, you could agree that employees whose Olympic holiday request cannot be accommodated will be able to have first choice of holiday absence over the Christmas period.

Whatever approach is adopted to the rationing of holiday over the period of the Olympics, it needs to be non-discriminatory and unlikely to create a sense of unfairness. You also need to ensure there is a clear, well publicised approach to taking holiday over the period. For example, you might inform staff that if they wish to take holiday during the period of the Olympics they will need to submit their application by a certain date, explaining what will happen where there is a clash of applications.

You need to write to staff now. To summarise, explain the need for adequate cover and tell your staff there will be no automatic right to take holiday during the holding of the Olympics. You should tell their staff how you will select between competing applications and invite applications to be made by a certain date. Employers that get off the starting block promptly in terms of their preparation for the games are likely to have successful outcomes in terms of minimising staff dissatisfaction.

Jane Moorman, solicitor and partner, employment department, Howard Kennedy

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