XpertHR's head of content Jo Stubbs and senior employment law editor Clio
Springer discuss employers' obligations with regard to time off work in relation
to volunteers for the Olympic Games.
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The questions in
Will this affect only employers in
the London area?
Not necessarily. As well as
events at the Olympic park and other sites across London, there will be events
taking place at other sites across the country such as Manchester, Glasgow,
Cardiff and Coventry.
How will employers be
They are likely to receive requests
for time off from people who have volunteered to be Games Makers at some
point. Selection events have already started and are due to be completed by
early 2012. People who have applied to be Games Makers will get three to
five weeks’ notice of their selection event and be offered a choice of times and
And, of course, anyone who is
successful at the selection event will have to commit time to training as a
volunteer and then the actual volunteering time at the Games. Volunteers
will have to take part in at least three training sessions and the volunteering
time itself will be a minimum of 10 days during the Games or the Paralympic
Games, or 20 days if the individual is volunteering for both. People will
be notified in April of their roster for volunteering.
Is there a right to time off to act
as a volunteer at the Games?
No, there is no right to either paid
or unpaid time off to act as a volunteer.
But surely there could be benefits
to employers in having their employees act as volunteers?
Yes, that is something for employers
to consider. Anyone who acts as a volunteer is likely to acquire new
skills. In addition, the employer could see a boost in employee morale and
benefit from the positive publicity generated around having its employees act as
Assuming an employer is considering
granting time off to volunteers, what are its options?
Many employers will not be in a
position to grant additional time off and, even if they are, will not be in a
position to pay for it. For a lot of employers the only option will be to
require employees to take the time off work out of their annual
leave. However, some might consider agreeing a combination of either paid
or unpaid special leave and annual leave. For example, an employer might
agree to match any period taken from annual leave with an equivalent period of
Does an employer have to grant a
period of annual leave requested to act as a volunteer?
Not necessarily. Requests for
annual leave for volunteering can be subject to the same rules as requests for
annual leave for any other reason. Employers may have their own rules in
place. In the absence of any rules to the contrary, an employee has to give
notice equal to twice the length of annual leave that he or she wishes to
take. For example, a request to take 10 days’ leave would have to be made
at least 20 days before the leave is due to start. The employer can refuse
a request by giving counter notice of at least the length of the leave - 10
days’ notice in this case.
If employees give only this minimum
notice, it sounds like they may be running a risk of not having their request
for annual leave granted?
Yes. In practice, employers may
want to have arrangements to encourage employees to submit holiday requests well
in advance of the Games, and by a particular deadline, so that they can consider
all requests fairly, taking into account the needs of the
business. Volunteers will have to be aware that the Games will be taking
place for two weeks from the end of July, a popular time for those employees
with school-age children in particular to request annual leave. The
employer may also receive requests for annual leave from people who have tickets
to attend the Games or want to watch them on television.
Could employees request a period of
flexible working to cover their period as a volunteer?
Requests for flexible working to
volunteer do not come within the statutory framework in the way that flexible
working for carers requests do, so employers are under no obligation to consider
requests for flexible working for this purpose. However, again, they need
to consider the benefits to the organisation of doing so. Flexible working
might be feasible to cover the training days - for example the employee
might be able to work longer hours for a period or work over the weekend to make
the time up. Whether or not it is an option to cover the actual
volunteering days will depend on the organisation, and the nature of the
To sum up, what advice would you
give to employers that may have volunteers among their workforce?
They should take the time now to
decide their policy on what type of leave they will grant to volunteers, whether
or not any special leave will be paid, how they will manage competing requests
for leave, and their position on flexible working. They may want to
encourage employees to request annual leave over the Olympic period well in
advance to increase their chance of having it approved.
By setting out their position well in
advance, employers will be able to manage employees’ expectations and reduce the
likelihood of conflict at a later date.
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relevant model policies and documents
Policy on staff volunteering for the Olympic
Games: Use this model policy to explain how your organisation will support
employees who wish to do volunteer work for the London 2012 Olympic
Policy on sporting and other special
events: Use this model policy to deal with absence and other issues arising
at the time of sporting or other special events such as the World Cup football
tournament or the Olympic Games.
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2012 Olympics volunteers: overview
Employees who wish to be 2012 Olympics volunteers will need to make a commitment
that is likely to impact on their employer. Employers need to decide how
they will deal with requests for time off by Olympics volunteers.
2012 Olympics volunteers: case study This
case study looks at a situation in which two employees request leave to enable
them to be London 2012 Olympics volunteers.
Weekly dilemma: Annual leave and the 2012
Olympics An employer is worried about how it will handle holiday requests
from staff to attend the 2012 Olympics.