Teachers Strikes: Implications for Employees and Employers

Date posted: 1st February 2023

There are a series of planned strikes by teaching staff across England and Wales between February and March.  There are implications for both employees and employers which should be considered now, ahead of the planned strikes.

When are the strikes planned?

In England and Wales, the strikes are planned as follows:

  • 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: South-east and south-west England, and London
  • 15 and 16 March: All schools in England and Wales

Individual schools will be affected for a maximum of four days and the Government guidance states schools should stay open if at all possible.

Are there any statutory rights parents could utilise to take the day off?

There are two types of statutory entitlement that parents of children whose schools are affected by the strikes might wish to consider.

Parental Leave

This is only for employees with 12 months or more service and who have children under 18. Each parent can take up to 18 weeks of parental leave in total for each child, until the child turns 18. If you have two children, you can take up to 36 weeks in total. Parents with three children can take up to 54 weeks.

However, there are some practicalities for this statutory entitlement that might make it difficult.

Under the statutory rules, the employee must give 21 days’ notice to request time off for parental leave. As strikes can be arranged with 14 days’ notice, this can be an issue, unless the employer is flexible and willing to accept a shorter notice period.

Additionally, parental leave must be taken in blocks of one week or more (unless the child is disabled, in which case it can be taken as one day). For parents of a non-disabled child seeking to take one day of parental leave, they will have one week taken from their overall entitlement.  On top of all of that, parental leave is unpaid, and is therefore unlikely to be popular with parents.

Dependants Leave

Dependants Leave allows employees to take time off 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. However, a court ruling in 2009 held Dependants Leave can be used for something known about in advance, where it has been impossible to arrange alternative care; for example, school closures during strike action.

In most cases, the employee will know this in advance and can discuss it with their employer, however, even where this doesn’t happen, time off dependants are not off the table. Again, this is unpaid and so it is likely employees will only use it as a last resort.

Do employees have to be given the day off?

Save for the above, 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. Doing this 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.

Employers should however make efforts to be reasonable. Some alternatives are:

  • Using annual leave
  • Taking authorised unpaid leave
  • Swapping working days
  • Working from home
  • Adjusting working hours

What about workers?

Worker’s do not have the same rights, unfortunately.  Parental leave and Dependants leave are only for employees. Workers options are therefore much more limited. They include:

–       Using annual leave; or

–       Taking agreed authorised, unpaid leave

Anything else is down to the employer’s discretion.

What about other people affected by the teaching staff strike action?

These are the ancillary staff, in particular those provided by third parties, such as external caterers, third party cleaning contractors and school bus drivers. With no children in school, there will not be any work to do. So, what can employers do if their staff are impacted?

Lay-off is one answer, although only if the contract allows. If not, it could be agreeing a day of unpaid leave (unlikely), forcing the employee to take annual leave (twice the notice as days to be taken will have to be given), putting them on other duties (again if contracts allow) or paid leave. This should be discussed in advance, and so employers who might be affected should speak to the individual schools they service to find out if so.

Need further HR advice?

For more information about this or any HR matter, please contact Kingswood Group for a free, confidential initial discussion. You can call us on 01245 204450 or email us on HR@kingswoodgroup.org


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