What do IKEA, Wessex Water, Ocado and Next have in common? Not a great deal, other than when it comes to unvaccinated employees – they are heading in the same direction.
Those unvaccinated employees will no longer be entitled to contractual sick pay when they are self-isolating because they have been identified as having been in close contact with someone with Covid-19. We haven’t seen any similar public announcements in any of the sectors we advise but they still may be on the same pathway, just with less fuss and media attention!
Is it a lawful idea?
Many employers, presumably including our happy band above, have, during the pandemic chosen to make discretionary payments under their contractual sick pay schemes when staff are self-isolating. Usually, these schemes state that payment is only made when a member of staff is ill.
Legally, employers can therefore remove those discretionary payments and revert to the original interpretation of the sickness policy. Self-isolating staff will remain entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) an employer cannot remove this entitlement.
Whilst there may not be a contractual issue, there could be discriminatory issues. Staff who are not vaccinated for medical reasons* or because of pregnancy or beliefs held (note that no one has tried to argue that an anti-vaxxer stance is a protected belief as yet), should not suffer a detriment which would include a reduction in pay.
*in the Government guidance, from 16 August 2021 individuals who are not vaccinated for medical reasons are not required to self-isolate when they are identified as close contact.
Is it a good idea?
I would hope our prime minister would agree that certain choices we make, whilst they may “technically” be lawful, are not necessarily a good idea!
Employers are caught between a rock and a hard place; address staff absences which are crippling many sectors at the moment, or create a two-tier workforce where resentment builds and staff feel penalised for making a personal choice.
A good idea is based on sound reasoning and strong information. Maybe a good place to start finding out whether this step is a good idea for your organisation would be to address the following:
- Will this address your staff shortages by increasing vaccination takeup?
- What will the “soft” cost be in terms of employee/employer relations?
- What’s the difference between SSP and contractual sick pay – is there a material difference which justifies this decision especially in light of isolation times decreasing?
- How would you caveat such a change to ensure that avoided discrimination issues?
If you would value a discussion about any of these issues please feel free to contact Katherine Sinclair.
Ocado and Next have cut sick pay for unvaccinated staff who must self-isolate because of Covid exposure