Managing employees during teacher strikes

The National Education Union has announced 7 days of strike action for teachers in England and Wales. National strikes are scheduled for all schools on 1 February, 15 March and 16 March 2023. There will also be regional strikes on 14 February, 28 February, 1 March and 2 March 2023.

In Scotland, teachers are currently taking part in a 16-day period of rolling strikes. There will be two more national strike days in Scotland on 28 February and 1 March 2023, as well as a further 20-day rolling period of strikes between 13 March and 21 April, during which teachers within two council areas will be on strike each day.

Such strike action raises the question about what working parents should do if their child’s school is closed and they need to make alternative childcare arrangements. In this situation, employees may wish to request a period of annual leave, to use any accrued time off in lieu (TOIL) or ask for authorised unpaid leave; employers can manage these requests in line with existing processes.

Alternatively, employees with at least one year’s service, whose child is aged under 18, may submit a request for statutory parental leave. However, this may not be the most effective option during teacher strikes since employees must give 21 days’ notice (which they may not have); the leave is unpaid; and the leave must be taken in blocks of one week, unless the employee’s child is disabled.

For many, parental leave could result in them having to take a full week off with no pay for only one day of strike action. As such, annual leave or authorised unpaid leave could be a better solution, to minimise the time off and subsequent impact on take-home pay.

Time off for dependants (TOD) can be used to deal with an unforeseen emergency affecting a dependant, such as childcare falling through. Usually, it’s for short-notice disruptions, for example, when a child is sick and cannot go to school, so won’t apply to situations where employees have advance warning and time to prepare alternative arrangements.

However, in the case of Royal Bank of Scotland v Harrison, the EAT confirmed TOD can be used for something known about in advance, where it has been impossible to arrange alternative care; this therefore may apply to school closures during strike action where the employee has been unable to find a childcare solution.

It’s useful for employers to use this time to meet with working parents and assess how the teacher strikes may impact them on an individual basis. Where possible, employers should work with their employees to agree a mutually beneficial solution; this may involve implementing temporary flexible working arrangements, such as homeworking, reduced hours, amended hours or flexi-time, so that business operations can continue and the employee continues to receive their normal pay.

In general, employers should remember that this situation is outside their employee’s control, so allow reasonable leniency if alternative working arrangements are needed. Organisations which are happy to reach a compromise will benefit from a more valued, engaged and motivated employee.

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