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Is your child's teacher going on strike? These are your work rights if you take time off for childcare

Teachers at thousands of schools in England will walk out on Wednesday 5 July and Friday 7 July as part of strike action over ongoing disputes relating to pay. Below we round-up your rights if you need to take the day off work due to your child's school being closed.

Here are the key dates for your diary. 

In England: 

  • On Wednesday 5 July and Friday 7 July, all schools in England may be impacted by strike action.
  • Strike action also took place earlier this year, affecting schools in some areas.

Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales: 

  • Strike action took place earlier this year, but no further action is currently planned.

You do have the right to take time off for emergency childcare

If your child's school is closed, or your normal childcare arrangements are disrupted due to an emergency situation, you have a statutory right as an employee to take unpaid time off to look after your child.

There are no time limits on how much time you can take off, but it should be a "reasonable" amount and employers should try to be flexible.

If an employer refuses your request, it must justify the reasons why, according to senior associate solicitor Ryan Bradshaw at law firm Leigh Day. 

If your employer initially refuses your request, you can raise an internal grievance. 

Whether you get paid to take time off work is down to your employer

You should check if your employer has a specific policy in your contract that allows paid leave for emergencies. There are no guarantees though, and Mr Bradshaw warns that you will also need to check whether your employer deems strike action to be an emergency. Most strike action is announced in advance and your employer may therefore expect you to have other arrangements already in place.

Other options to consider include asking to take the time off under your paid annual holiday allowance. Alternatively, ask your employer if there are other arrangements it can put in place, such as enabling you to work from home or swap shifts.

If you are planning on taking time off, tell your employer as soon as possible

If you are planning on requesting unpaid or paid leave due to a childcare emergency, you should put this in writing to your employer as soon as possible. Set out why you haven't been able to make alternative childcare arrangements and what arrangements could be made to mitigate your time off work.

Are you a 'worker' or 'employee'? Check your contract as it affects your rights

If you're not an 'employee', and are instead classed as a 'worker' under UK law, you won't be entitled to time off for emergencies. You're typically classed as worker rather than an employee if your contract with the business uses terms including ‘casual’, ‘freelance’, ‘zero hours’, ‘as required’ or something similar.

See for full details on what it means to be a worker and your rights.

If your child gets free school meals, these should still be provided

If your child receives free school meals and can't go into school due to strike action, the school must continue to provide support - whether that's in the form of a food parcel or money to cover food costs. 

If you haven't heard anything from your child's school about school meals on strike days, make sure you contact them to find out what arrangements are being put in place. See our Free school meals guide for further information on how the scheme works and how to check if you qualify.

Breakfast and afterschool clubs may also still be open, even if the main school isn't - although it's best to check. 

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