Did you know that according to the Business Council of British Columbia, approximately 90% of employers surveyed in March of this year do not have a policy regarding employee-volunteers for the 2010 Winter Games?

The 2010 Winter Olympics will be held from February 12 to 28 and Paralympics from March 12 to 21, 2010. However, before, during and after the Games approximately 25,000 volunteers are required to fill positions ranging from handling accommodation inquiries and food and beverage services, to community relations and risk management and assurance. Further, these positions will require a significant time commitment, including a minimum of 13 shifts for the Olympics and 8 for the Paralympics, ranging over a period of 17 days to several months.

The Vancouver Organizing Committee ("VANOC") is looking for a diverse group of individuals with all kinds of skill sets and experience, and according to its website, will continue the application process until all volunteer positions have been filled. VANOC began a "phone screen" of applicants this past Spring, which is projected to continue until the end of 2009. Security clearance and interviews will commence in the fall of 2008 until the end of 2009, and, for those applicants who pass these initial hurdles, orientation and customer service excellence training will also occur throughout that period. VANOC will make offers for positions throughout 2009, and mandatory job-specific training will generally occur from that point until January of 2010. In sum, volunteers will have to expend a significant amount of time applying, interviewing and training for, and participating in, the 2010 Winter Games.

The question for employers then, is how flexible are you willing to be with employees who want to participate? Will employees be required to use their paid vacation leave, be allowed unpaid leave, or a mixture of both? How many employees will be permitted to volunteer at a given time? If the employees are represented by a trade union, does the collective agreement include a provision for leave of absence or should this matter be the subject of a letter of understanding that addresses the issues raised by participation in the Winter Games? How early will employees have to disclose an intention to participate, particularly where they may not be accepted until 2009 or later? Further, even if none of your employees volunteer for the Games, how will you deal with the increased demands on your employees and security, not to mention on public transport, as well as attendance issues and access to workplaces near venues?

All of these issues and more can be resolved and balanced by a considered 2010 Olympic Policy.