How Employers Can Help Mitigate the Impact of Teacher Strike Action
As the cost of living crisis continues to bite, the strike action that started last year is set to continue for the foreseeable future. With the proposed teacher’s strikes in the UK planned for February and March this year, there is ever-increasing pressure on businesses and employees alike.
The teacher strike action could also have different impacts on the same school on multiple days, as different teacher trade unions are striking on different days. Whilst schools ought to be giving parents sufficient notice on the impact of teachers striking in their school, this can be difficult to predict as union members are not obliged to inform the school that they are going on strike.
Additionally, some non-union teachers may join in on the industrial action. With teacher strike action affecting employees who will now need to find childcare, it is just another employment minefield to contend with. There are, of course, other industries taking industrial action which may also indirectly affect businesses. Employees are also faced with cancelled medical appointments due to industrial action within the NHS – all of which combined is leading to testing times for Business owners.
What Can Employers do About Teacher Strike Action?
For those employers looking to minimise the effects of strike action, there are some simple plans you can implement to help reduce the impact on your business and at the same time support your workers who are affected by the strike action. These will help in reducing any stress this may be causing.
As a starting point, as with all matters relating to workers, employers are encouraged to have open and honest conversations with their workforce as soon as possible and as frequently as necessary to understand who will be affected by strike action, and agree on alternative arrangements in advance.
The impending teacher’s strike action could mean employees may need to take emergency time off from work or rearrange shifts in order to care for their children.
Here are some options employers may want to consider:
Working from Home
Since the pandemic many businesses have opted to implement a hybrid working model, with employees able to work from home on some days and work in the office on others. As there is usually advanced notice of when teachers are striking, and when any other strike action is due to occur if you have such a policy your solution can be as simple as allowing affected employees to work from home on strike days. Although for those with small children, working from home may not always be a viable option. For employees who cannot work from home, there are other options available that may be considered, either paid or unpaid.
Take paid annual leave
Employers may want to consider requesting affected employees to take paid annual leave by providing them with adequate notice, ensuring that the employer’s request is compliant with legislation, as well as any company-specific policies and procedures they may have.
It is important for employers to communicate with employees and work with them to schedule the leave in a way that minimises disruption to the business and ensures that the employee’s rights are protected. Of course, if an employee has put a request in to take annual leave, an employer should consider such requests fairly so as not to discriminate against other employees. For example, those who do not have childcare issues and want to take the same day off.
Asking employees to take accrued time off in lieu
It’s important to note that accrual of time is a common benefit provided by employers, but is not a legal right and employers are not obligated to provide accrual of time to their employees. However, some may choose to do so as a benefit for their employees to help mitigate the impact of strike action.
The accrual of time worked can be based on a variety of factors, such as the number of hours worked, the employee’s length of service, or a combination of both. The accrual rate and the maximum amount of time that can be accrued may also vary depending on the employer’s policies. Employees may accrue time worked, which means that they can accumulate hours or days of work over a period of time and take this off during strike action when they are unable to work.
Time off for dependants
Employees are entitled to a ‘reasonable’ time off to deal with dependant-related emergencies. Although time off for dependants is usually unexpected time off, employees may still want to rely on time off for dependants to care for their children during the teachers’ industrial strike action. If an employee requests time off for childcare purposes, this leave is usually unpaid unless you have a more generous policy.
Taking unpaid leave
Employees can request to take unpaid time off from work on any days they may be impacted by strike action by requesting it from their employer. It’s important to note that unpaid leave is not a legal right but employers should be mindful not to discriminate when considering a request for unpaid leave. Any such requests from employees should be considered swiftly so that employers can make necessary arrangements to ensure they have sufficient staffing coverage for continued business operations.
More strike action
As we learn of more strike action being taken in other industries, such as the NHS this could mean employees may need to take longer than the normal time to attend medical appointments due to staff shortages or have medical appointments cancelled at short notice. Employers should be flexible and understand that these changes at short notice are outside of an employee’s control.
Although these are trying times for Business owners, the Government is hoping that a Bill that was introduced in Parliament in January, The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill, will limit the disruption caused by industrial action. The Bill mandates that vital public services must maintain a basic function and deliver minimum service levels in the rail, fire and ambulance sectors during industrial strike action.
At this stage, we do not know the proposed timeline for this Bill to be introduced. Its reach could impact Industrial action going forward with strikes being deemed illegal and those who participate in unlawful strikes losing their protection against unfair dismissal.
Here at HR:4UK we will continue to monitor the progress of this Bill and will keep you updated on any developments associated with the teachers strike action in the UK.
In the meantime, if your workforce is being impacted by any of the current industrial actions contact us and let our advisors guide you through this time.
A qualified employment law solicitor and our managing director, Angela has unparalleled legal expertise and decades of experience and knowledge to draw from. She’s a passionate speaker and writer that loves to keep employers updated with upcoming changes to legislation, and is a regular guest speaker on BBC Leicester Radio.