The National Education Union (NEU) has announced that its members will have school strikes in a dispute over pay, this is unlikely to be new news to you, but have you considered how it may impact your business and its employees?
It is a slightly grey area as we are yet to see how widespread the school closures will be and it’s unclear how much notice parents/guardians will be given if their dependents cannot attend school on a strike day. In an already tricky climate we know this isn’t ideal for us SME’s but we also know it’s out of our employees control, therefore we recommend allowing some flexibility and understanding.
We’ve put together below our key considerations and suggestions on how to manage your employees that may be impacted by the strikes.
Plan, discuss and prepare
Firstly, try to plan to ensure the impact will be minimal and where needed prepare for remote working, flexible working or consider shift changes amongst the team. Start having conversations now to see what potential arrangements will need to be made to avoid minimum disruption to projects and workforces.
The planned dates of the strikes in England and Wales are:
- 1 February – all schools in England and Wales
- 14 February – all schools in Wales
- 28 February – North and north-west England, Yorkshire and Humber
- 1 March – East Midlands, West Midlands, and the NEU’s eastern region
- 2 March – London, South-east and south-west England
- 15 and 16 March – all schools in England and Wales
Individual schools will be affected for a maximum of four days. The official government guidance says schools should stay open if at all possible, however each school has ratio requirements to meet and in some cases the schools will have no choice but to close if their staff do strike.
The important thing to note here is that it’s unlikely employees will know for sure whether or not their dependents school will be open until the day before, we appreciate this is very short notice but a gentle reminder, this is out of the employees control.
Do my employees have to have the day off?
There is no legal right for a day off to look after a child when their school closes due to strikes. It is a matter of discussion between the employer and employee, a degree of flexibility and common sense is required on both sides to limit the disruption. Below are some work around suggestions:
Flexible working hours:
Depending on an employee’s child(ren) age and needs, working from home may not be a viable option. A work around may be to consider a short term variation in working pattern, working their hours before and after school hours, working on a weekend day or switching to another day.
Time off in lieu (TOIL):
If TOIL is something your employees can accrue, now might be a suitable time to encourage the employee to use this to ensure there is no impact on their pay.
You can also look at encouraging staff to use their annual leave holiday entitlement, at short notice, to cover potential childcare issues. This option wouldn’t impact an employees pay, however they may feel annoyed that they have to use their holiday entitlement for reasons beyond their control.
Authorised unpaid leave:
Unpaid leave is an option if agreed by both.
Doing the above options, being open and honest about expectations and in good time (as much as is possible) should avoid the situation where an employee fails to attend work without making contact, resulting in an unauthorised absence.
Employees that feel supported during their times of need are more likely to give back and offer support and flexibility for the business during busy periods and times of arising uncertainty.