Managing during the Olympics

June 13th, 2012

Everyone is working together to make the Olympic and Paralympic Games a great success. Employers should now be considering more flexible working arrangements, how they might minimise potential disruption and manage staff expectations to ensure business runs smoothly .

Your employees will fall largely into two groups:

  • those who plan to take time off during the Games because they are:
    • a spectator: millions will be visiting London this summer to watch the Games
    • a volunteer: if you've been lucky enough to be selected as a Games Maker
  • 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
    • want to take annual leave during the holiday period when the schools are off

As the countdown to the Games continues, Acas has published guidance to help you plan ahead and ensure your business runs smoothly:

  • manage attendance: you should be talking to your employees about their plans. You may keep your policy simple – maybe have a 'first come, first served' policy for booking leave – but it may help to draw up some guidelines
  • work flexibly: whether or not you currently have flexible working in your business, it may be something to consider, even as a short-term measure
  • deal with performance issues: there may be problems around staff watching lengthy coverage via their computers. Why not plan for popular sporting events in advance – perhaps giving staff access to a tv during agreed times?
  • understand the legal rights of volunteers and the responsibilities you have towards them and how volunteering can help your business. Volunteering can help develop your employees' skills but you obviously need to protect your business interests. Many volunteers will be agreeing to ten days work, with three days training prior to the Games. You may decide to match an employee's leave with special leave.

Sunday Trading restrictions will be suspended during the Olympic and Paralympics Games

The Sunday Trading restriction which limits the Sunday opening hours for some shops to six continuous hours between the hours of 10am and 6pm is to be suspended during the Games.

The suspension is for eight consecutive Sundays which will start on 22 July and end 9 September 2012. This is a temporary measure and applies to England and Wales.

Shop workers will still have the statutory right to opt-out of Sunday working during this period. The opt-out notice period has been reduced from three months to two months and employees who do not wish to work on any of the eight Sundays must give notice on or before 22 May 2012.

Questions and Answers

How can I keep travel disruption to a minimum?

  • Think about how your staff can plan to get into work. Trains, buses and trams might be operating different timetables. Car and bicycle travel may be delayed by road closures and slower driving.
  • Have you and employees looked at arranging an alternative route or travel method to get in and get home?
  • Make sure your staff know how to get in touch with you if they are unable to get into work and that you have a means of communicating with them if difficulties arise.
  • If you staff are affected by travel disruption, is there some way you can work around this or keep the difficulty to a minimum? Do they have the option of working from home, or altering their hours. Talk to your employees now.
  • Consider how you can deal with the workload in the event of staff being absent. Do you need to let your employees know if any deadlines are at risk?

For more information on potential travel disruption and alternative routes, please visit:

I have a lot of staff who want leave over the Olympic period – some to watch the games and others for holidays. What do I do?

The company annual leave policy should give guidance as to how to book time off. You may wish to look at being a little more flexible when allowing employees leave during this period. If so, be clear that this is a temporary arrangement. The key is for both parties to try and come to an agreement.

Whatever policy you adopt – for example, first come, first serve until you reach the agreed level of cover needed – try and be fair and consistent in the way it is applied in practice.

How can my staff work more flexibly during this period?

A more flexible approach to matters such as working hours and location may be effective if possible. The handling of travel disruption etc can be an opportunity to enhance staff morale and productivity by the way it's handled for example is there an opportunity for staff to work from home.

Information technology could be useful in enabling a business to run effectively if many employees are absent from work, for example using laptops or smartphones.

Is it possible to change some terms and conditions of employment for a temporary period during the Olympics?

During the Olympic Games changes to working practices may help you organise your work load and help staff with travel difficulties. For example a change in location of work may be beneficial to both you and your employee; a change in working hours may also help you both. Look at your contracts – they may already have a flexibility clause that may allow some changes and allow staff to travel to other locations.

Any change to a contract of employment should be done with the agreement of your employees. Make sure your employees know this is a temporary change for this period only. See the Acas Leaflet – Varying a Contract of Employment.

Q&A on Volunteering


Three of my staff have got volunteer positions at the Olympics. I can only let one go. What's the best way of handling this?

The key to avoiding potential misunderstanding or conflict is to have a clear policy in advance and communicate this to all staff – that way, everyone knows where they stand and you look after your business needs. Your policy need not be very complicated – a simple process of 'first come, first served' may be enough.

I have a member of staff who has got a volunteer place at the Olympics. Do they need to use their own holiday?

Employees have no legal right to take time off for volunteering. You can decide to give paid or unpaid time off or, if not, the employee may wish to take annual leave. Many employers encourage their employees to volunteer to help develop their skills and give employees an agreed quota of paid days leave per year to volunteer – typically, about two days a year.

I have a member of staff who has got a volunteer place at the Olympics. Am I expected to pay for them while they volunteer?

There is no legal right to be paid for volunteering. Volunteering is something employees often do because of their own interest, but increasingly employers are recognising the business benefits of volunteering – in terms of developing skills and supporting the local community. If your employee is taking special leave then it would be up to you to decide whether that will be paid or unpaid.


I've got a volunteer place at the Olympics but my boss won't let me have the time off.

There is no legal right to time off to volunteer. Your employer will need to look at their business needs when allocating time off. Check with your line manager if the company has a policy on volunteering. You may be able to reach a compromise – in terms of taking annual leave or unpaid leave for some of the days.

I've got a volunteer place at the Olympics but I don't quite have enough holidays left to take. Is there anything I can do?

Discuss this with your employer, they may have a policy for employees wishing to volunteer as many businesses now actively encourage employees to get involved in community or charitable projects. Your employer may allow you time off, either unpaid or paid, or even match your annual leave with special leave.

Will I get paid if I volunteer at the Olympics?

There is no legal right to be paid for time off from your employer for volunteering, however your employer may allow you special leave with or without pay, or you may wish to take paid annual leave.

Read about what Acas has been doing behind the scenes to help the Games run smoothly.

Training course – Managing the impact of the London 2012 games on the workplace

Acas has designed a training course for employers that gives guidance on the issues they may need to think through arising from the London 2012 Games such as planning staff holidays, working from home, and coping with difficult journeys to work. Details of the course can be found on our training page.

Related training courses

Absence management

Employing People – A Practical Introduction

Flexible working

Performance management

Skills for supervisors

Have you been approached by anyone claiming to be working in association with Acas?

If you think you have we've provided some advice and guidance on what to do and what to look out for to avoid Acas imitators.

Further information


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