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Clare Cruise



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Legal Insight: Playing the Games within the letter of the law


With only a few months to go to the start of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and amid widespread predictions that London could come to a complete standstill, employers need to start planning now to ensure that they can cope with the many issues that will undoubtedly arise.

Inevitably, the Games will cause a considerable amount of transport disruption. Some roads in London, for example, will be shut for the entire duration of the two events as they will be “Games Lanes” (parts of the Olympic/Paralympic Route Network where access is restricted to the Olympic Family and emergency vehicles). 
Spectators will be encouraged to use public transport to get to venues, but this situation will inevitably lead to overcrowding and delays.
Such disruption will not only affect London, however. Dorney in South Buckinghamshire will host the rowing, sailing will take place in Weymouth, cycle racing will occur in Surrey and mountain biking in Essex, while Cardiff, Coventry, Manchester, Newcastle and Glasgow will all provide the requisite sites for football matches.
What this means is that it is crucial to start planning for such events now. Start by talking to employees in order to establish how they commute to work so that you can gauge the likely disruption to their travel arrangements.
Businesses are being asked to stagger working hours to try and ensure that fewer people use public transport at peak times. Consider whether this course of action is feasible for your organisation and evaluate what arrangements can be put in place to ensure business continuity, while also giving employees some flexibility. 
But take care that any arrangements do not adversely impact on flexible working activities that have already been agreed with individual staff members.
If it is possible for personnel to work from home, start making arrangements so that you can clear any unexpected hurdles. For example, IT systems may need to be upgraded to cope with a greater number of workers logging on to the system remotely. 
Policies should also be reviewed to ensure that they deal with issues such as eligibility to work from home, data protection, health and safety matters and insurance. 
If it is not practicable for staff to work from home, consider how you will deal with people who are delayed coming into work. You could either decide to pay them as normal and ask them to make any lost time up later or allow them to take annual or unpaid leave.
Whatever you decide, however, ensure that the revised policy is properly communicated to all concerned.
Many employees will want to take time off during the Games. Ensure that you deal fairly and consistently with holiday requests and that personnel understand the basis on which leave will be granted. 
You could deal with such requests on a first-come, first-served basis or ask staff to apply for holiday by a specific date and then consider which requests will be granted on the basis of business requirements. If you take the latter course of action, explain to people in advance the criteria that you intend to apply when making any decisions.
According to a survey undertaken last year by recruitment consultancy, Badenoch & Clark, one in six UK workers plans to take a ‘sickie’ in order to watch the Games. To discourage absenteeism, however, many employers are choosing to accept that staff may want to follow the progress of their national team at events during the working day. 
At peak times, the BBC intends to have 24 streams of live content on its website. But if large numbers of employees try to access this coverage at the same time, it may overload IT networks, while also leading to an inevitable drop in productivity. 
It is also worth remembering that giving staff too much leeway to watch events during working hours may give rise to complaints from colleagues who are not interested in the Games.
It is just as important, meanwhile, to ensure that absence and disciplinary policies are followed consistently and fairly when dealing with attendance issues at this time. Avoid jumping to the conclusion that everything is Games-related and carry out a proper investigation, giving warnings if appropriate.
An alternative solution could be to set up TVs in communal areas so that workers can follow events either during their breaks or on the basis that the time lost is made up later. Managers should monitor the situation to ensure that the situation is not abused, however, and that staff who do not wish to follow the events are not overworked due to their colleagues’ absence.
Take care that employees’ natural desire to support their national teams does not lead to behaviour that could be construed as discriminatory or harassment as employers may be held vicariously liable for such behaviour. For instance, organisations that only allow staff to watch events in which Team GB are competing could find themselves on the receiving end of a race discrimination claim. 
Also remember that employers can be liable for any harassment that takes place not only during working hours but also at an event that is considered to be an extension of work. This includes organised trips to the pub after work so that personnel can watch an event on the big screen.
Organisations may be able to defend against a discrimination claim if they can show that they took all reasonable steps to prohibit such behaviour before it took place. But it will not be sufficient to have a policy buried deep in a handbook somewhere – staff must be aware of it and its implications. 
Employers must also be able to demonstrate that they dealt effectively with any complaints under the policy.
On the upside, meanwhile, the Games do not only present organisations with challenges, but also a golden opportunity to engage positively with workers. 
The secret to success, however, will be planning ahead so that both you and your people can enjoy the Games with equanimity. But remember…the clock in Trafalgar Square is ticking.
Clare Cruise is an associate at law firm, Bristows.
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Clare Cruise


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