HR Expert: Managing the teachers strikes
My client runs a business providing hot lunches to schools. As the children can choose what they are having, the amount of work can vary. They therefore employ both permanent employees, and use casual workers. What employment law considerations should they be thinking of if they are affected by the upcoming strikes?

With teachers across England, Wales, and Scotland set to strike, you client will want to get prepared. Below are the main points they need to consider.

Strike days

England and Wales

  • 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. Government guidance says schools should stay open if possible.


  • Almost all primary and secondary schools closed due to national and local strikes; 16 days of action began on 16 January.


The impact on your client will be twofold: there will be less need for their staff to work on strike days, but also even if there is work, they may not be able to perform it due to their own childcare needs.

Can work, no work

Lay-off is an option, 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 (if contracts allow) or paid leave. It may be possible to swap shifts with staff who cannot work due to childcare needs. This should be discussed in advance.

Can’t work

Parental leave

Employees with 1+ years of service and children under 18 can take this unpaid leave. There are however practicalities that make it a difficult and less appealing option.

21 days’ notice of parental leave must be given. As strikes can be arranged with 14 days’ notice, this therefore might not be possible, unless your client can be flexible. Additionally, it’s taken in one-week blocks (or one day blocks for disabled children). For parents of a non-disabled child taking one day of parental leave, one week is taken from their entitlement.

Time off for dependants
This unpaid leave is for unforeseen emergencies, such as childcare falling through, and is only for employees. In Royal Bank of Scotland v Harrison, it was approved for use for something known about in advance, where alternative care couldn’t be arranged; this means it can be used during strike action. As the employee is likely to know this in advance, your client should try to talk to them about it before the day of the strike, so they can properly prepare.

Other options

  • Annual leave
  • Authorised unpaid leave
  • Swapping working days
  • Adjusting working hours

This will be a matter of discussion between your client and their employee.

As there will be notice of the strikes, this is unlikely to be an issue, however your client may have a worker on a longer assignment that is affected. Do they have the same rights as employees?

No. The statutory leave is just for employees. Workers options are:

  • Annual leave
  • Agreed authorised, unpaid, leave
  • End the assignment early (possibly subject to notice)

Anything else is up to your client. Workers are not protected in the same way as employees – there is no right not to suffer a detriment for taking time off to deal with dependants. This leaves workers in a vulnerable position, such as where unauthorised leaves leads to termination.



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