Advice for Employers Regarding Planned Walkout by Ontario School Workers on November 4

A walkout by Ontario School Workers:

Approximately 55,000 education workers across Ontario have announced that they will walk off the job on Friday, November 4, to protest legislation introduced by the Government of Ontario that would avert a strike and impose a new four-year contract.

School boards throughout the province have announced different plans and options. As the situation is constantly developing, employers and employees should check with their school board for the latest information. A list of all school boards in Ontario and links to their respective websites can be found here.

We recommend that employers consider the following to support their workforce, while also mitigating the adverse impact that the protest may have on their operations on November 4 (and potentially other days if similar action is taken in the future).

  • If at all possible, plan for working parents who are affected by the action to work remotely. However, do not assume that all working parents will be able to work from home at their normal capacity. This is not a vacation day for students, as they will still be required to learn remotely. Depending on their child’s age and needs, parents may be obliged to provide assistance, which means they will be unable to carry out work-related tasks during those times (which could be part of the day or essentially the entire day).
  • If possible, consider allowing those that need the option to take the day off, but make up the hours this week/next week so that they are not forced to use a vacation day. However, there is a risk that the protest may extend beyond one day so consider the precedent you may be setting. Parents should already be making a plan. Some may choose to use their vacation time (which is still subject to company approval), but cannot be forced to do so. An employee who chooses not to use a vacation day, or does not have vacation time to use, can request a day off without pay subject to company approval. It is important to give the same options for all (not allowing some to take the day off and make it up, others to take a vacation day, etc.).
  • While the current situation is disruptive and may be costly (in terms of reduced productivity on November 4 and possibly other days in the future), employers should be empathetic and as flexible as possible. Employee relations matters. Even if you are on the right side of the situation legally, employees who are stressed out, unhappy, or resentful are not what you want.
  • Ensure that employees who are not directly impacted by the protest (e.g., those without children/school-aged children) are not forced to carry an extra burden on November 4 or subsequent days. It is not fair to them, and it also could create divisions and hostilities across the workforce.
  • Parents are not the only ones who should be making plans now. Employers should also be looking at roles and identifying which ones are critical, and who is performing them. It may be wise or necessary to make temporary adjustments that minimize disruption and negative impact.

The pandemic obliged organizations to become adaptable at short notice, and find a balance between organizational needs and supporting employees. Drawing on this awareness and experience will be valuable during this labor disruption.

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