With planned strike action in England and Wales in the coming months, many working parents and carers will face challenges with childcare provisions. How can employers support their affected employees?
Union members are not required to share their intention to strike in advance, so it is very challenging for schools to anticipate the impact on their staffing levels and attempt to source adequate cover.
While the impact within early years settings is hoped to be less significant than within schools, some may also need to close as a result of employee absence. For some employees, particularly those with young children, it may not be possible to continue to work at all if their childcare provider or school is closed and they have no alternative support.
How Can Employers Support?
During the pandemic, employers had to think creatively about how some employees could continue to work whilst juggling childcare responsibilities. Now is a good time for managers and working parents to revisit these contingency plans. This might include flexibility on when they work, for example, working during the evenings or swapping a working day, or temporary home working.
It may help to start the conversation early, reminding parents of local strike action dates. Some may have support with childcare available from family members, which may enable them to continue to work. For others, there may not be a ‘Plan B’ so it is important to be clear on how absence will be managed on these dates.
The following types of leave can be considered:
- Annual leave – If the employee has sufficient annual leave, they may wish to request this according to your policy. However, it’s important to remember that annual leave is limited and if there are a significant number of days where strike action will disrupt their childcare provision they may be left with minimal annual leave to take holidays later in the year.
- Taking time off for dependents – In most cases this is unlikely to be appropriate as the strike dates have been communicated some way in advance. However, employees have a right to absence to care for dependents where their care has broken down unexpectedly. The statutory right is to unpaid leave in these circumstances, although some organisations have now chosen to provide pay in support of working parents/carers.
- Time off in lieu (TOIL) – Where an employee has worked a number of additional hours without pay, you may allow them to take this time ‘back’ as TOIL. As an employer, you may already have a policy on how TOIL is managed in your organisation and employees would need to follow the requirements for recording and requesting this leave.
- Parental leave – Employees have a right to request unpaid parental leave up to a maximum of 18 weeks in total, before the child’s 18th birthday. Ordinarily, 21 days’ notice of the intention to take parental leave is required and it is usually taken in blocks of one week. Where only one day is required, this is recorded as a full week of the entitlement.
- Unpaid leave – A final option to consider is to allow parents or carers to request unpaid leave. You may have a policy regarding unpaid leave that needs to be followed.
We would encourage employers to be as flexible as possible. Working parents or carers may find this situation particularly stressful and disruptive both at work and at home. You may wish to remind your employees of any workplace sources of support that you offer, for example, via an Employee Assistance Programme.