Olympic Absences - Are You Prepared or Just in Training?

Posted in : HR Updates on 6 February 2012
Angela Schettino
Think People Consulting
Issues covered:

Angela Schettino writes:

Love of sport is something which unites us, regardless of culture, religion, class or political leaning. It crosses boundaries other pastimes could never even aspire to reach, and most of us, even the least ‘active’, can usually name some sporting activity which we enjoy either participating in or watching. 

In July 2012, we are preparing for what is being touted as the ‘greatest show on earth’, the London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games. We have heard much about the preparations across the different locations and how our top athletes across the UK are preparing. There have been invitations across all regions for volunteers from the public, including Northern Ireland, to take part in making this a spectacular occasion, but what are employers doing to prepare? 

Employer Preparations

According to a survey of 1000 office workers by recruitment consultants Badenoch & Clark, two thirds of employers are yet to communicate any plans for an expected surge in absence during the 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games The MD of Badenoch & Clark is quoted as saying, ‘a majority of employers are still in denial about the impact it will have on their businesses. This is poor planning that could lead to employee discontent or threadbare cover.’

Consider Implications

According to ACAS, who are providing specific advice on the issues, employees will fall into two main groups:

1. Those who plan to take time off during the Games because they hope to be:

  • a spectator: 6.6 million tickets were available and many people have a good idea of what events they will be attending. 
  • a volunteer: the selection process to choose the 'games makers' has begun and successful applicants should be informed from early 2012.

2. Those who have no plans to take time off during the Games but may either:

  • hope to watch some TV or internet coverage while at work or may wish to discuss some sort of temporary flexible working arrangement.
  • get fed up with all the fuss and any perceived favouritism shown to those with sporting interests.

Whilst we recognise that employers in the London area have particular concerns we believe all employers need to prepare for questions around leave and absence. There are four main areas which employers should form clear communication and procedures around, so that when the Olympic and Paralympic Games commence, there is no room for confusion or disappointment. These considerations may be wrapped into a timely ‘Time Off for Sporting Events Policy’ which could also apply to other prominent sporting events.


There are no public or special back holidays scheduled for the Games. Employees have no right to paid time off to attend or watch events other than agreed annual leave. Consider the particular impact on your operation and clearly communicate the policy around taking leave. You may wish to allocate paid annual leave on a first come, first served basis. You may also consider allowing unpaid leave where this does not impact the operation. It is a good idea to include a statement which makes it very clear that any absence which is found to have been falsely reported as sickness following investigation, whether to watch a sporting event or otherwise, will be dealt with under your disciplinary procedures.

Working Flexibly

A method which has been successful with a number of employers with operational difficulties (e.g. those with a manufacturing base or productivity targets) is to discuss with employees the possibility to work flexibly around a sporting event, depending on the nature of their work. This may mean agreeing to allow employees access to a television for popular events, in return for agreement that the normal shift or work pattern will be completed around the event. An alternative is to allow for employees to declare which events they will view on their computer screen, and allow for them to work around this where possible. In some cases it may be possible to use up ‘time off in lieu’ which has accumulated. All this should be made clear in your policy and provided well ahead of the summer events. 


Some employees may have applied to become volunteers to assist with the running of the Games. This has been funded by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure here in Northern Ireland. Whilst there is no right to paid time off for volunteering, increasingly employers are recognising the business benefits of volunteering - in terms of developing skills and supporting the local community. If your employee is taking leave then it would be up to the employer to decide whether it will be paid or unpaid. In some cases employers will match for example 5 days annual leave with 5 days paid special leave.

Performance Issues 

It is important that all communications stress the importance of maintaining high levels of performance throughout. Communications should make clear that abuses of policy or instances of poor performance or misconduct will be investigated and dealt with using your disciplinary policy. 

The planning and communication required in order to minimise disruption during the 2012 Olympic & Paralymic Games can be relatively minimal and should help ensure that employers can continue to operate smoothly throughout the summer.

This article is correct at 10/11/2015

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Angela Schettino
Think People Consulting

The main content of this article was provided by Angela Schettino. Contact telephone number is 028 9031 0450 or email Angela.Schettino@thinkpeople.co.uk

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