29 November 2011 #Employment
Public sector workers are planning to go on strike tomorrow (30 November), in response to planned pension reforms. This is likely to have an impact on your staff, particularly those with children. What do you need to be aware of?
It is expected that thousands of schools across England & Wales will be closed tomorrow due to large numbers of teachers taking part in the strike. Unfortunately, many parents are going to have to wait until tomorrow morning to find out if the school that their children attend is affected, as it is unclear which schools will be closed. Here are some options to consider:
1. Holiday entitlement: For staff unable to come to work because of childcare commitments, one option could be for them to take the day off as normal holiday. Many staff won’t be able to comply with the notice requirements (i.e. notice of twice the number of days’ leave), as they won’t know until tomorrow if they are affected. Exceptions should be made in this case.
2. Time off for dependents: Employees have a statutory right to a reasonable amount of unpaid time off work to deal with certain unexpected situations affecting their dependants. This is a scenario where your staff may need to take advantage of this right. Some employers may still choose to pay staff in these circumstances, but either way, a consistent and non-discriminatory approach should be taken (so don`t assume it will always be mothers who can take the time off, and allow fathers the same rights). See the Buddy Time off for Dependents Factsheet for more information.
3. Flexible working arrangements: Another option could be for your staff to work from home, to swap shifts, or make up hours at a later date.
4. Bring children to work: This is probably the least feasible option, despite David Cameron’s advice to employers to allow this. However, depending on the nature of your workplace, this might be something to consider.
UK Border Agency staff are also expected to take part in the strike, which will cause severe delays for airline passengers. If you have any employees expected to return from a holiday abroad tomorrow, there is a good chance that they may not be able to return to work as planned, especially if landing at Heathrow, which has warned of possible 12 hour delays.
If an employee cannot get into work because of a delayed flight, an employer cannot generally deduct pay. This is likely to be an unauthorised deduction from wages if done without consent. Instead staff can be required to use their annual leave entitlement to cover the extended holiday, or required to take unpaid leave.
What can you do about staff you suspect might be taking advantage of the situation?
You need to be clear why you suspect staff may be taking advantage. Where you do have good grounds to suspect malingering, then you could invoke formal disciplinary procedures - but make sure you have some evidence.
Ideally employers should have a policy setting out what happens in the event of unforeseen absences. That way all employees will know the situation in advance and there won`t be any nasty surprises or disagreements on an employee`s return. See Buddy’s Emergency Preparations Policy Guidance and the Emergency Preparations Policy for more information.