After the first school strike for some time, we had a number of questions from clients regarding how employers should treat the time off some parents have taken to look after their children.
And, there has been some misreporting in the press, particularly the BBC, who stated that all employees have a right to take time off to care for children and dependants. That is not strictly true.
What they do have, in an emergency, is the right to take time off to organise care for children and dependants. Full details of Government guidance can be found at this link – Time off for family and dependants: Your rights – GOV.UK
What does this mean in practice?
Our recommended response to your employees would be “What arrangements can you make to adapt to the new circumstances?”
As mentioned, there is provision within the law for time off for dependants, that permits taking emergency unpaid time off to make alternative arrangements for the care of dependants/children. It is not time off to actually care for them.
Many employers ask parents, in such circumstances, to take the time as holiday, unpaid leave, or make up their hours/time later. Depending on their job role and whether home working is feasible, you might agree for them to work at home on strike days.
But where this is not possible, their focus should be on making arrangements to have their children looked after, so they can get back to work.
When are the next strikes due?
- 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: South-East and South-West England, and London
- 15 and 16 March: All schools in England and Wales
As ever, how you treat your employees will depend on your contractual documentation, what it says in your handbook or other policies and procedures, and the culture of your organisation.
In general, when a school closes, many parents will have to make some alternative arrangements. And, this may mean they have to take time away from work. It is up to the employer to decide whether this time is paid or unpaid.
What we would say is that, if you are fair and reasonable to those employees who are also parents, they are more than likely to want to stay with you, knowing that plenty of employers are not as good. Failing to consider peoples personal circumstances, and being unsympathetic to working parents, is not likely to encourage employees to want to stay in the medium to long term. This, in turn, creates a higher labour turnover, more recruitment costs and training. So, think through what the long-term implications might be of being unsupportive on teacher strike days, which are not of your employees’ making.
The guidance provided in this article is just that – guidance. Before taking any action, make sure that you know what you are doing, or call an expert for specific advice.