Ask the expert: Time off during the Commonwealth Games

Q. I AM the practice manager at a medium-sized practice in the south side of Glasgow. Many of my reception team have tickets for various events at this summer’s Commonwealth Games and I have received a number of requests for time off during the end of July. However, I cannot accommodate everyone, so how should I deal with this in a fair manner?

A. Following on from the overwhelming success of the Olympic and Paralympic Games in London 2012, Glasgow hosts the Commonwealth Games between July 23 and August 3.

As excitement builds, many of the events have already sold out and many practices may have to deal with multiple requests for time off. Start preparing now by identifying the staffing needs and ensuring relevant policies are up-to-date, especially those on absence and holidays.

Although a number of your employees have asked for time off, there is no legal obligation for you to grant these requests. It would be advisable to ask the rest of your employees now if any of them wish to take time off so you can start planning for the absences.

Some options to consider for employees who plan to attend/volunteer at the Games include:

• Taking annual leave

• Making up time at later date

• Allowing flexible working during the Games

• Granting special leave – paid or unpaid

• A combination of the above

Under employment law terms, there is no obligation to give paid time off unless there is something in the contract that states this will be granted, which is unlikely.

If an employee is requesting annual leave, the practice must comply with its obligations under Working Time Regulations. For every day of holiday required, employees should give employers at least twice as much notice, so to request two days’ leave they need to give four days’ notice.

There may be different provisions set out in your contract or holiday policy and these should be adhered to. As your practice cannot accommodate all the holiday requests made, you should let your employees know about the refusal as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.

In the absence of any practice policy on the matter, the counter notice must be given at least one day in advance for every day of leave requested, i.e. two days’ counter notice if refusing a request for two days’ annual leave.

Situations where a number of employees are competing for time off may already be covered in the practice’s holiday policy. If not, then you can deal with the requests on a ‘lottery’ basis and pick names out of a hat to ensure fairness.

It is important to avoid any allegations of unfair or discriminatory action by being consistent, transparent and thinking about how you will manage annual leave requests.

Another important issue for practices to consider is unauthorised absences which may be higher than normal during the Games. Any cases of suspected unauthorised absence should be handled as a misconduct issue and dealt with in accordance with the practice's disciplinary procedure.

For clarity, both disciplinary and absence procedures should state that unauthorised absence will constitute misconduct that is likely to lead to disciplinary proceedings.

The possibility of poor performance amongst employees, perhaps due to overly enthusiastic post-event celebrations, should also be considered, while practices should be alert to the possibility of employees trying to watch lengthy coverage at work on TV or on their computers or smartphones.

It is worth advising staff that this is not acceptable and those who want to watch the Games may request to alter their hours on a temporary basis. Practices will need to consider what flexible working arrangements are in place and if this can be accommodated in the short term.

There will be employees who have no interest at all in the Games and it is essential for the practice to consider this so that managers are not left open to accusations of showing favouritism towards those who are interested.