Employment News

News added on 02.09.2019



How to prepare for the global climate strike

Climate change activists are urging employees around the world to protest at inaction over the climate change crisis by walking out of their workplaces on 20 and 27 September 2019. What pre-emptive steps can you take to prevent any possible disruption at your workplace?

The aim of the global climate strike is to replicate in the workplace the school climate strikes in March 2019 which saw 1.4 million students walk out of their lessons. The organisers of the strike are claiming that workers in over 150 countries are preparing to strike and media reports suggest that as many as five million UK employees could participate, although actual levels of participation are uncertain. What is known is that it isn’t just employees working in heavy industry or in natural resources who are being asked to walk out; all employees are being encouraged to do so, regardless of the business sector or industry in which their employer operates, so that the disruption to “business as usual” is as wide-ranging as possible. Several large businesses have indicated they actively support the action. However, smaller businesses are unlikely to want to be subjected to disruptive activity caused by employees unexpectedly failing to turn up for work. Therefore, do assess if there might be a potential impact on your business and, if so, plan ahead.

If you do think there is a risk of one or more of your employees participating in the global climate strike, what you might want to consider is confirming in writing to all your staff (an e-mail will suffice) that walking out of work without prior management approval constitutes unauthorised absence, which is a disciplinary offence under your disciplinary procedure and could lead to their summary dismissal for gross misconduct. Make it clear that there is no statutory or contractual right for employees to take part in unofficial strike action of this nature. Therefore, if any employees do wish to take the day off to participate in the protest, they should arrange in advance to book annual leave in the normal way or, if you’re willing to permit this, they should arrange with their manager to take special unpaid leave. Make it clear that any applications for leave will be dealt with on a first come, first served basis and will only be granted subject to adequate staffing levels being maintained, to ensure the continuity of your business. If you are prepared to allow special unpaid leave, do think carefully first about the precedent this might set in relation to similar future actions or events.

If you’ve warned your employees in advance of the possible consequences of unauthorised absence and any do then take 20 or 27 September off to participate in the global climate strike without having had the time off approved in advance, you should be able to instigate your disciplinary procedure, and it’s possible it could result in their dismissal. You will need to treat all offending employees equally though, as normally you can’t single one out for dismissal whilst only issuing a written warning to any others. If an employee alternatively phones in sick on these dates but you suspect their sickness absence may not be genuine but is a cover for the strike, you’ll need at least some evidence to support your suspicions before you can treat it as a disciplinary matter.  

Write to all staff to warn them that walking out of work without permission to participate in the forthcoming global climate strike constitutes unauthorised absence and could lead to their summary dismissal for gross misconduct. Therefore, if they do want to participate, they should pre-book annual leave or, if you’re willing to allow it, special unpaid leave (but be careful about setting a precedent in the latter case).

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