UK: Count To The Olympics Starts Now. Twelve Months To Go

Last Updated: 7 November 2011

Article by Charlotte Walker-Osborn Head of TMT Sector and Laura Friend, Solicitor, Commercial.

What? A year away from the London Olympics but the anticipation and, for some, apprehension over the 2012 Olympics is already building.

So what? Almost all employers will encounter some issues, whether in the form of over-demand for time off, maintaining staffing levels, inappropriate sickness absence or misuse of the Internet at work.

When? Tickets are allocated and we are told that the key structures are in place, ready for 27 July 2012. The Games will then run until 12 August 2012, shortly followed by the Paralympic Games from 29 August to 9 September 2012.

For many employers, particularly those outside the cities where Olympic events are due to take place, news reports of the progress of the Games will have been met with interest but may have been given little further thought to date. However, those organisations are now strongly advised to engage in their own forward planning for the Games, if potential problems are to be avoided next summer.

Some of these issues are of more immediate impact than others. Over the next few months, therefore, we will consider each of them in turn. With 12 months to go, it is by no means too early for employers to start applying their minds to how holiday requests may be dealt with next summer.

Over-demand for time off

The summer holiday period often requires a degree of juggling and forethought by employers, if employee requests for leave are to be accommodated and business needs maintained. Next year, many of the usual weekly or two-weekly summer holiday requests are likely to coincide with the Games, whether by accident or design, and more employees are likely to request occasional days of leave, possibly to attend the Games or simply to watch certain events on television.

Whilst employees are legally entitled to a minimum of 28 days' statutory leave each year pursuant (subject to exceptions) to the Working Time Regulations 1998 ('the WTR'), when that holiday may be taken is largely at the discretion of the employer and will be dependent on the needs of the business. The WTR also provide a process to be followed for requesting holiday by which employees must notify holiday requests and the employer may accept or decline. This process can be varied by contract or agreement and very many employers have their own holiday policies and procedures.

Issues to consider include:

  • Adopt a clear strategy. From longer breaks to individual days off, or even part days, consider the extent of holiday leave that can reasonably be accommodated by the business. If demand exceeds availability, consider what alternative options might mitigate the effects for disappointed staff (some of which appear below). In some cases, organisations will be expecting an increase in work and may not be in a position to allow any holiday requests at this time.
  • Identify demand. Employers need to understand the extent of likely demand for time off. Bunching of requests either side of the Games is also something organisations will want to avoid. Staff should therefore be asked their plans to request leave next summer so that the organisation can consider the best approach. The earlier this is done, the sooner staff can apply their minds to what they might want and also be reminded that holiday leave cannot necessarily be guaranteed. Employers would also be well-advised to familiarise themselves with the timings of events already known to be amongst the most popular for supporters of Team GB and when the need for greatest flexibility is likely to arise. View London 2012 event schedule[]
  • Check your policy. Is your current holiday policy and request procedure appropriate to deal with excessive demand or might you need to take steps to change it temporarily? Most such policies will be discretionary but understanding the nature of the policy (ie whether it is contractual or discretionary) will be important here before proceeding.
  • Make it a fair process. In dealing with requests, consider how fairness will be ensured. Will holiday be allowed on a first come, first served basis or by way of lottery, much as tickets for the Games were distributed? Whichever approach is adopted should be fair, and demonstrably so.
  • Communicate. Many problems are likely to be avoided if policy decisions are communicated early and the reasons for them explained, particularly if selection is involved or robust decisions are taken.


Not everyone is interested in the Olympics, nor necessarily supporting the British team. As previous events have shown, however, even individuals who seem indifferent to the event at the outset often get caught up in the excitement subsequently. Others may simply want to ensure their indifference does not result in less favourable treatment.

Employers who are able to prepare now, clarify the likely needs of their business, refine or develop clear policies and communicate openly and fairly with their staff will go a long way to avoiding many of the short-term problems that can arise and, above all, better protect the interests of their business.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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