While the Olympic Games mean medals for American athletes, they also may present Olympic-size headaches for American employers.
A recent poll by Marist Institute for Public Opinion found that 80 percent of adults will tune in at times to the Olympic Games in London. A survey issued by Velti estimates that about 40 percent of all adults will stream at least a portion of the games on mobile devices. Of consequence to employers is that, due to varying time zones, many of the Olympics’ premier events and finals — all being streamed live — occur during the daytime hours in the United States, when many employees are on the job.
How should employers deal with Olympic fever? What options do they have to support patriotism while keeping employees focused on their jobs and maintaining productivity at appropriate levels? Employment attorneys can advise their executive managers about how to keep employees at the top of their game without creating practical or legal problems.
• Win with clear expectations. All Olympic events are easily accessible to employees throughout the day via televisions, computers, tablets and smartphones. Inevitably, some may spend too much time focused on the events instead of their jobs, which could result in millions of dollars in lost productivity.
Counsel can coach clients to let employees know in advance what is expected of them. One option is for employers to take an old-fashioned, hard-line approach and strictly enforce their policies regarding nonbusiness Internet use. This can mean monitoring Internet usage to ensure employees stick to work when it is working time. However, other employers may choose to bend the rules a bit and look the other way to allow some cheering for the athletes during work hours.
It’s prudent to advise management personnel that, if they notice someone spending excessive time preoccupied with the Olympics, a simple remedy may be to sit down with that person and request the employee to focus on the responsibilities for which they get paid. Calmly reminding a worker not to let prolonged distractions interfere with getting the job done may resolve the problem quickly.
• Hurdle social media challenges. The media has dubbed the London Olympic Games as the first-ever social games; people around the world have minute-by-minute access to Olympic events in real time. Not only can employees check social media sites for updates, many also share their thoughts and opinions on athletes and favorite event outcomes.
Some employers may be inclined to keep tabs on the amount of time employees spend on social networking sites, but there are limits on how employers may access that information. Many employees use the privacy settings of social networks to restrict the information available to people outside their approved or designated network. Employers who gain access to employees’ private social media pages by adding them as friends, doing so under false pretenses or doing so with fake identities, risk invasion-of-privacy claims and more.
• Sink office pools. Americans who bet on everything from men’s basketball to women’s soccer may be tempted to make their wagers through office pools. Betting pools present significant risks for employers. Some may look the other way, but at a minimum, employers must ensure that managers and supervisors are not administering office betting pools, soliciting employee involvement or otherwise giving the appearance of employer sponsorship. At a minimum, counsel should urge management to limit employee participation in such activities to nonworking time, such as during meal and break periods.
• Dash away from discrimination. Employees inevitably discuss their favorite facets of the games in the workplace. Those conversations may include mention of characteristics such as participants’ race, nationality or disability. Other workers might find such comments objectionable, inappropriate or even harassing.
Employers should make it clear that any emails or social media posts should not be discriminatory in nature. It’s also wise to remind staff of the employer’s equal-employment opportunity, anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies to ensure compliance with anti-discrimination and similar laws.
In addition, employers must be mindful of discrimination issues when accommodating requests to watch events or when setting up viewing areas. If an employer allows workplace viewing of Olympic events, it should reasonably accommodate all requests from employees to watch the games in a fair and consistent manner.
It would be a lapse in judgment if an employer assumed employees only want to watch Team USA or cheer during the Olympics instead of the Paralympics. For example, providing group screenings for only those events that feature American athletes and teams may open the door to a nationality-discrimination claim. Because the Olympics are intended to showcase and promote the tapestry of a multicultural world, employers should consider all nationalities and cultural affinities when deciding whether to show the games in the workplace.
• Keep the Olympic spirit alive. Lawyers should remind executive managers and supervisors that an event like the Olympics can provide a wonderful platform for boosting employee morale and can offer some relief from job stresses. Conversations between employees about victories and triumphs may actually be beneficial in the workplace.
The Olympics are in full swing. Right now is the time to review policies and discuss Olympic plans with employers and employees to avoid disruption without spoiling the spirit of the games and enjoyment of its many events.