This is the stark warning from Michael Slade, Managing Director of the employment law specialist Bibby Consulting & Support.
According to the latest ACAS guidance for companies, there are likely to be many members of staff who will be attending events at the Olympics either as spectators or as volunteers. And there will be even more who will want to stay at home and watch the Games. Either way, planning annual leave as efficiently as possible and coming to some kind of flexible working arrangements will be essential to ensure businesses have the necessary cover, Slade said.
ACAS has also warned that there may be possible workplace disputes caused where sports-loving employees are deemed to be shown favouritism by being allowed to take time off. Those commuting into work may experience transport problems affecting their attendance or timekeeping. In addition, productivity may be reduced should well-meaning employers allow their employees to watch the Games during working hours.
However, Slade said the main concern for companies is expected to be employees who take unauthorised absences from work where their requests for annual leave have not been accepted. He pointed out that absenteeism costs UK companies around £32bn a year, with a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers survey showing that 34 per cent of employees had taken time off work under false pretences and lied to their bosses about it. Another survey revealed that, worryingly, 90 per cent of companies had no plans to deal with the expected increases in staff absence during the period that the Olympic Games are on.
Slade said: “Businesses – especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – need to get their processes in order and communicate them to staff as quickly and as clearly as possible so that everyone is aware of the consequences of taking time off work that hasn’t been agreed.
“Companies need to make sure that they have a robust absence policy and disciplinary policy relating to unauthorised absence and that all employees are fully aware of it. Flexibility will be the key but far more important will be clarity – workers need to know where they stand so that any kind of disputes and disciplinary issues can be kept to an absolute minimum. If an employee is absent from work without authorisation that is a disciplinary matter which could result in a high level warning and in some cases dismissal.”
Slade concluded: “There are some very important considerations for businesses when setting out policies for the Olympics. We have been providing advice and support for the last six months or so to organisations who are genuinely worried how they will cope when the Games are on. After all, this period of disruption comes only a few weeks after an extended bank holiday season for the Queen’s Jubilee. We would urge all employers to take action now to avoid distractions and declines in productivity, which the UK economy can ill afford.”