Rio 2016 – HR Hurdles

Employment Issues and the Olympic Games

With the Olympic Games in Rio having kicked off in true Samba style, what happens when employees’ behaviour creates the potential for difficulties for an employer?

We take a look at four potential scenarios which could arise during this summer’s Games.

Last Minute Holiday Requests

Care must be taken by managers dealing with late requests for time off in striking a balance between fairness to staff and business productivity.

It is always important to ensure staff have access to up-to-date policies and know the correct procedure for requesting time off from work. Managers should follow established workplace procedures or express contractual provisions, which may mean a few disappointed staff. If there is no contractual or workplace procedure in place, the employer risks breaching the Working Time Regulations 1998.

Employers can refuse holiday requests where the business could not meet demand due to an employee’s absence, but where possible, requests should be granted. Treating your employees fairly will minimise the number of sick days and unauthorised time off.

Unauthorised Time Off

It is not uncommon during major sporting events for instances of sickness to increase. Employers should be ready and have appropriate contingency plans in place. However, managing the sick employees themselves can be more of a shot in the dark: how do you know if their sickness is genuine?

It is now established in UK employment case law that taking time off as sick leave when not actually sick could be enough to represent a dishonest and fundamental breach of contract and potentially amount to gross misconduct.

Where you suspect an employee is feigning illness, an employer should gather evidence appropriately and take legal advice throughout any disciplinary process which follows. Common sources may include making discreet enquiries of other staff members and checking the employee’s social media posts.

Following proper process and acting reasonably as an employer is essential. Dismissing an employee without a genuine belief to their feigning illness or without following proper processes could leave your business exposed to claims. Judge these situations on a case by case basis and always seek legal advice where possible.

Lateness

The UK is four hours ahead of Rio de Janeiro. Your employees could be up until the early hours watching the Games. Be vigilant towards lateness and lack of productivity at work.

It may assist longer term employment relations to show some restraint and only use the disciplinary policy for the worst offenders. Consistency and fairness will win the day. It would be reasonable to expect any sanctions to be at the lower end of the scale. More proactively, employers can encourage and remind staff of their responsibility to turn up for work on time and to be ready to perform their role.

Discrimination

This summer’s Games are the most progressive in history, with teams from across the globe competing under their nation’s flag. The diversity of the Games is mirrored by diverse workforces across the UK. Employers should be vigilant towards comments and behaviour from staff which could be discriminatory. UK case law has clearly established there is little excuse for workplace banter in the context of race discrimination, or discrimination on the grounds of religious or political belief.

Director of Legal Services

James Tamm

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