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IKEA – Cutting Contractual Sick Pay for Unvaccinated Staff

IKEA – Cutting Contractual Sick Pay for Unvaccinated Staff

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In 2021, the Government guidance on self-isolation changed for fully vaccinated people who had come into contact with positive COVID-19 cases. Fully vaccinated means that you have had 2 doses of an approved vaccine such as Pfizer or AstraZeneca. There have been no recent updates on self-isolation guidance for those who are unvaccinated and have come into contact with a positive COVID-19 case, which means that the following rule stands:

If you do not have symptoms of COVID-19 but live in the same household as someone who has tested positive, then you are legally required to self-isolate unless you are fully vaccinated, aged under 18 years, have taken part in or are currently part of an approved COVID-19 vaccine trial or you are not able to get vaccinated for medical reasons.

Fully vaccinated people who have been in contact with positive COVID-19 cases do not have to self-isolate, whereas for unvaccinated people who have been in contact with positive COVID-19 cases, self-isolation is currently for 10 full days. As a result, unvaccinated people are increasingly likely to have to self-isolate in comparison to those who are fully vaccinated. Furthermore, unvaccinated people who have been in contact with a positive COVID-19 case and are unable to work from home, will need to call in sick to work for 10 full days (including non-working days). This has only increased labour shortages and caused huge disruption for businesses who are trying to get back on track following the initial 2020 UK lockdown. Subsequently, several businesses are considering whether to effectively penalise staff who are not fully vaccinated.

IKEA employs approximately 10,000 people in the UK, and their staff receive enhanced sick pay. However, IKEA have made the decision to cut sick pay for unvaccinated staff without mitigating circumstances, who are having to self-isolate after contact with a positive COVID-19 case. This is not the first Company to take such a strong stance on those who are not fully vaccinated, nor will it be the last. Already, Next and Ocado have followed similar steps and made changes to their sick pay policies. To clarify, IKEA, along with Next and Ocado, will continue to pay their standard full sick pay to unvaccinated staff who have tested positive for the virus.

IKEA have claimed that this policy change is a reaction to staff shortages and to encourage staff to get vaccinated. However, it could be considered discriminatory if not thought through and implemented carefully. Each individual should be assessed on a case by case basis due to the different mitigating circumstances that can arise. Whilst IKEA have confirmed that they will be assessing each case individually, not all businesses have the resources to do the same, particularly whilst the Omicron variant continues to spread as swiftly as it has been recently.

Potential issues could arise if businesses do not assess each case individually. For example, if an individual is medically exempt from having the vaccine and has to isolate for 10 days on statutory sick pay (“SSP”), instead of receiving their usual, enhanced sick pay, then this may warrant a discrimination claim.

Whilst there is room for potential claims to be made, there are clearly fair reasons for the policy to be implemented as well. If you are considering whether to change your sick pay policy, it is important to consider the reasons behind the change and whether the risk is worth taking on for your business. Such a change could encourage staff to get vaccinated but on the other hand, it could encourage staff to stop testing or notifying their employer that they need to self-isolate because they simply can’t afford to live off SSP, which is approximately £96 per week.

Contact our specialist Employment solicitors

Should you wish to discuss policy changes to your business, or the risks associated with implementing a policy change similar to IKEA’s, then do not hesitate to get in touch with our Employment Team on 0330 175 7608, or email employment@ibblaw.co.uk.