As coronavirus restrictions begin to ease for those who are vaccinated, some employers are beginning to look at sick pay for individuals currently unvaccinated. Self-isolation guidance has been eased for those who have received their vaccination recently, however, there was no change for those unvaccinated people that come in to contact with a positive case, these individuals must isolate for 10 full days after their date of exposure.
There is a growing list of employers looking to implement reduced sick pay for their employees that are unvaccinated. These businesses are looking to cut sick pay for employees that are currently unvaccinated and have to self-isolate due to contact with a positive covid-19 case unless the employee is exempt from vaccination. They are looking to cut this to £96.35 per week, the statutory sick pay (SSP) minimum.
Philip Richardson, partner and head of employment law at Stephenson’s has stated that this shift highlights the way many employers are handling the pandemic. Richardson predicts that many firms are likely to follow suit in an attempt to manage the recent surge in cases, “many have reached a point of intense pressure when it comes to staffing and costs”.
On the 11th January 2022, IKEA confirmed that the company would be joining the list of employers taking this approach to the current rise of Omicron. After media speculation, the Swedish furniture retailer confirmed that unvaccinated workers without mitigating circumstances who have to self-isolate because they have been in close contact with a positive case would only receive statutory sick pay.
The retailer made sure to highlight that there are “many unique circumstances” and that it would consider all incidents “on a case by case basis”. The retailer stated, “Fully vaccinated co-workers or those that are unvaccinated owing to mitigating circumstances which, for example, could include pregnancy or other medical grounds, will receive full pay.”
IKEA continued on to say, “Unvaccinated co-workers without mitigating circumstances that test positive with Covid will be paid full company sick pay in line with our company absence policy. However, unvaccinated co-workers without mitigating circumstances who have been identified as close contacts of a positive case will be paid Statutory Sick Pay.”
Fashion retailer next has also joined the list of employers cutting sick pay for the unvaccinated. Next has taken a similar approach to IKEA, with unvaccinated workers who test positive are still being paid in full for the time they need off. Next currently pays store sales consultants and stock assistants between £6.55 and £9.21 an hour and warehouse operatives between £9.30 and £11.26 an hour.
But unvaccinated workers who are required to isolate having been identified as a close contact of someone testing positive for Covid could now receive SSP (£96.35 per week) unless there are mitigating circumstances.
The retailer has implemented this change after the company faced a shortage of labour in 2021 and are now seeing a large number of the workforce absent due to the fast-spreading omicron variant.
During the pandemic years, different employers have introduced different systems to help ease the pressures the pandemic has had on staffing and financial issues. In 2021, supermarket Morrisons cut sick pay, several companies including banking giant, Citigroup implemented a “no jab, no job” policy and American airlines company Delta imposed a surcharge on unvaccinated staff members to cover its healthcare plan.
The implementation of new systems to combat the effects of Covid-19 come with their own pros and cons, in addition to potential legal risks. Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) discussed the recent move by both Next and IKEA to cut sick pay of the unvaccinated. Willmott believes it could encourage staff to get vaccinated, but others might be less likely to test themselves or self-isolate because they could not afford time off work at the statutory rate of about £96.
Employment lawyer Sarah Ozanne, of CMS, warned of complex legal issues and said striking the right balance was difficult. This action seems more of a reaction to staff shortages and how to manage them than any intended ‘discrimination’ of the unvaccinated. But employers should consider whether their actions are proportionate as a means of achieving the aim of getting employees back into work.”
If you are looking to create any changes to policies within your workplace and business, it is crucial you get it right to avoid any legal ramifications. Our team of highly qualified expert HR consultants can assist you with informed advice and guidance to ensure you remain within the law.
Our team can also help you manage your workforce absence, offering advice and guidance when performing return to work meetings, assisting you when discussing sick leave with employees, ensuring you remain within the law when dealing with absenteeism.
Should you wish to discuss any of the points in the article further, or you are looking to create a smooth HR operation when dealing with absence or chancing policies, please get in contact with the team at HPC today.
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