Article comment: Is South West trains right to ban employees from booking time off for the Olympics
Further to the news that South West Trains has banned its staff from applying for leave to see the Olympics until 2012, which means that staff may miss out on applying for Olympic volunteer places and will be unable to plan their holidays ahead of time, Sarah Gallon, associate in the employment group at law firm Stephenson Harwood considers the implications:
“Employees at South West Trains have been informed that they will not consider holiday requests for the Olympics until that year which means that employees hoping to volunteer for the Olympics will be too late to apply for volunteer places. South West trains are not being unreasonable in refusing to grant holiday for a period where significant demands are likely to be placed on their services and they are not legally obliged to grant holiday requests in these circumstances.
Employers should watch for employees taking sick days around this period. Employers are entitled to take disciplinary action against any employee who takes sickness absence if the employee is not genuinely sick however, employers must ensure that they have evidence that the absence is not genuine and must also follow a fair process.”
“It is interesting that the Train Drivers’ Union TSSA have stated that they are taking legal advice to see whether they can mount a legal challenge to the decision by South West Trains not to consider holiday requests for 2012 until that year. Many members of the union may question whether this is a good use of their subscription fees.”
Suggested management techniques:
“Businesses may want to consider implementing a formal volunteer scheme for the Olympics as a one-off event (or also covering similar events) to deal with requests for time off to volunteer. Any policy would need to take into account the basis on which requests will be granted (first come first served or looking at demand before granting any requests) and whether this should be taken as annual leave and/or unpaid leave.
Employers who are implementing a policy should also think about how they are going to deal with other requests for leave around this time which are unrelated to the Olympics, for example, will employees who request parental leave or holiday for leave for religious reasons around this period be granted time off? Potential discrimination issues could arise if employers refuse requests for leave without justification based on genuine business needs.
Employers should respond to any requests for holiday in accordance with the Working Time Regulations and any applicable holiday policies. The Working Time Regulations and most holiday policies give employers the right to refuse holiday requests where business needs require employees to be present at work. Although from an employee relations perspective, it may be advisable for employers to grant holiday requests where possible, this is not always practicable and will depend on the needs of the business.
Finally, employers should consider the effect on employee relations before making blanket decisions in relation to time off. Holidays are a valuable resource and employees who feel that such decisions are being made without good business reasons are at best likely to affect individual morale and at worst may prompt the employee to look for another job. “
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