Teacher strikes: what if my employee can’t work?

  • Leave and Absence
Kate Palmer FCIPD - Director of HR Advice and Consultancy at global employment law consultancy, Peninsula.

Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director

(Last updated )

On 16th January, the National Education Union (NEU) announced that teachers in England and Wales will strike for several days across February and March.

Some of these days will be national strikes and others will be region-specific. For staff with childcare responsibilities, these strikes might make working difficult or even impossible in some cases. 

To help you prepare your workforce for upcoming disruption, here’s what you need to know…

When are the teacher strikes happening?

The NEU has said strikes will happen on the following days:

  • Wednesday 1st February (England and Wales)
  • Tuesday 14th February (Wales only)
  • Tuesday 28th February (Northern, North West, and Humber regions)
  • Wednesday 1st March (East Midlands, Western, Eastern regions)
  • Thursday 2nd March (London, South East, South West regions)
  • Wednesday 15th March (England and Wales)
  • Thursday 16th March (England and Wales)

How will the teacher strikes affect parents and pupils?

If teachers are striking, the authority managing the school will have a responsibility to do all they can to keep the school open.

For some, these strikes may have little to no disruption. For others, a lack of staff might force schools to limit their number of pupils or close completely. So, many children may have to stay home.

Do employees get a day off if their child’s school closes because of strikes?

Employees do not have a legal right to take time off if schools close due to strikes. But they do have legal rights for looking after children.

So, if a school closure does affect your employee, they’ll need to look into finding alternative childcare arrangements. As the union has announced the strikes in advance, staff should have enough time to find childcare if this affects them.

So, you may want to give employees a heads-up now to help minimise absences on the strike days.

What if my employee can’t find an alternative childcare arrangement?

Your employee may not be able to find an alternative childcare arrangement.

If this is the case and they need to be absent from work, they’ll need to tell you about it. You can then discuss ways to help them manage their work commitments around the strikes. You might consider allowing them to work from home or reduced hours.

Do I have to pay my employee if they can’t work because of the strikes?

If your employee can’t be in work or work flexibly, you’ll need to find another arrangement.

Whether you need to pay them or not for taking time off depends on your agreement and the type of leave they take. You might agree for them to take days out of their annual leave, which entitles them to normal holiday pay. Or, you might allow them to take unpaid leave.

What if my employee made arrangements for childcare and their plans fell through last minute?

Your employee may call up on the day of a strike saying their childcare arrangements have fallen through last minute.

At this point, they’re unlikely to have time to find an alternative arrangement and so they’d be able to take emergency time off for dependents. This type of leave is unpaid.

Can my employee take parental leave if the teacher strikes affect them?

For an employee to be eligible for unpaid parental leave, they need to:

  • have worked for you for at least a year
  • have children under the age of 18
  • give 21 days’ notice

As the NEU announced these strikes on 16th January, your employee would now only be able to give two weeks’ notice for the first strike day. You could be flexible and allow them to take it anyway.

However, staff can only take a maximum of four weeks of parental leave a year (unless you have different rules). And they can only take parental leave for a minimum of one week, unless their child has a disability. So, it may not be the best option if staff only need to take one or two days off.

What if my employee doesn’t tell me they need to be off work?

Your employee shouldn’t take time off without telling you. If your employee is off work and didn’t tell you, you have a right to mark this down as an unauthorised absence.

You may be able to take disciplinary action, but you must act fairly and only after you’ve considered the specific circumstances. 

How should I prepare for the upcoming strikes?

It’s important that staff with childcare commitments know if and how the strikes will affect them. If you haven't already, you might want to tell staff in advance about when the strikes are set to take place, so they have time to find alternative childcare.

It also means you can have discussions now about flexible working adjustments if required. This could save you and your workers a lot of stress and confusion down the line.

But now the strikes have begun, you may already be having issues. So, if you need advice, don’t hesitate to give us a call on 0800 029 4384. Alternatively, leave us a few details here and a HR expert will get back to you.

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