How should employers deal with school strikes?

February 15, 2023

By Fflur Jones

With more teacher strikes on the way, our employment lawyers have some top tips for employers in dealing with the possible disruption to their workforces.

This month has already seen tens of thousands of teachers walk out of the classroom in a dispute over pay. Around 23,000 schools in the UK were affected on the first day of strike action, and there are further strikes planned for the next few weeks. With children out of school, and working parents having to scramble to find last minute childcare, what can employers do to mitigate the disruption to their workforces?

First of all – talk to your staff

Get an idea of the number of staff that could be affected by school closures. Open communication is key to help employers plan, as best they can, for teacher strike action. This should allow employers to prepare their staff, arrange cover, and think of ways to try and limit the level of disruption.

Keep an open dialogue

Whilst asking your staff at the outset how and when they may be affected is advisable, bear in mind that the situation is fluid and many schools may not give that much notice of closure or part-closure. As such, keep an open dialogue with staff about the issue and check in with them regularly.

Next up – plan ahead

Once employers have an idea of who from their staff may be affected by strike action and when, it’s best to have a consistent and well-communicated position on the issue. For example, will you allow home-working whilst staff are caring for children? Will you allow flexibility around working hours for them to work around childcare responsibilities? Or will you insist that any affected staff book annual leave / take emergency (unpaid) leave? Whatever approach you decide to take; write it down, communicate it, and stick to it consistently. The last thing you want is one employee arguing that a colleague of theirs has been treated more favourably than them when both of them are affected by the same strikes.

Will remote working solve the problem?

Many employers will already have systems set up for home working. This could be a possible solution for some parents – particularly those who have older children. In other roles and jobs, it won’t be possible.

What about temporary flexible working?

Can employees’ hours of work be changed temporarily to allow them to look after their children and complete their work? Ultimately, this comes down to the needs of the employer’s business or organisation; but if it can work, it can provide a workable solution.

Can staff take annual leave?

This is the other obvious solution to the problem, but will again be determined by business / organisation needs and will also depend a lot on how many of your employees are affected. For example, if a significant number of employees are affected by childcare issues linked to strike action, you will need to consider whether you can actually accommodate all such leave requests. Also, employees may find it difficult to give employers the usual notice of their annual leave requests, so employers may need to be more flexible in their approach to requests. That said, be careful about consistency again; allowing one person to take annual leave and not another could breed resentment.

If annual leave is not going to be suitable, you could agree that affected employees can take unpaid leave to cover strike action. Some employees could technically qualify for parental leave and time off for dependants leave. However, often these types of leave are only offered as unpaid by employers.

If you need any further help or advice, please contact Fflur Jones on fjones@darwingray.com or 02920 829 117 for a free initial chat to see how we can help you.

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