The announcement of teachers' strikes in England and Wales will cause difficulties for many working parents. Although guidance recommends that schools be kept open if possible, it seems likely that at least some will close, with a knock-on effect on parents' ability to work.
What are the options for employers whose staff are unable to attend work?
One possibility is to allow office-based staff to work from home, even if they would usually be required to attend the office on those days. However, this can create difficulties. Working from home is not a substitute for childcare, and employers usually make it clear when dealing with flexible working applications that employees are expected to have childcare in place when working from home. Although it might be possible to supervise an older child while working, it's much more difficult to supervise, say, a reception-aged child while getting any meaningful work done. Employers may be wary of creating an unhelpful precedent by blurring the boundary between work and childcare.
Alternatively, employees can use unpaid parental leave or (also unpaid) time off for dependants. To qualify for parental leave, they need to have been employed for a year and should give 21 days' notice (although employers may want to show some flexibility on the notice period). Alternatively, employees who do not qualify for parental leave can probably rely on the right to take time off for dependants - although some employers might argue that it's designed to cover 'unexpected' disruption rather than a planned strike, we would again recommend taking a common-sense view. Employers should also bear in mind that any dismissal for exercising a statutory right will be automatically unfair.
Of course, it's also possible for staff to take holiday, although we would not advise employers to require staff to take holiday if their staff prefer to exercise their right to unpaid leave.
Given that public sector industrial disputes show no immediate signs of being resolved, we recommend that employers adopt a fair and consistent approach now and communicate this to affected staff.