Covid and Sick Pay

A growing number of UK firms are now reducing sick pay down to the statutory minimum for unvaccinated staff in limited circumstances. Ikea was the first to make a move, followed by others, such as Morrisons, Wessex Water and Next.

At Ikea, staff who contract Covid and are still unvaccinated (and do not have a mitigating reason to be unvaccinated) will still be paid in accordance with the company’s sick policy.

However, unvaccinated staff who have to self-isolate after coming into contact with another person who has Covid will only be paid the statutory sick pay minimum. This is in response to current government policy in England, which states that unvaccinated people must isolate for 10 days if they are in close contact with someone with Covid – they must isolate, even if they do not test positive. This requirement increases company sick pay costs for employers. In contrast, those fully vaccinated do not have to isolate after exposure to Covid.

However, Ikea has been careful to state that each case will be dealt with individually – rather than a blanket policy. This has been done to protect Ikea against any potential discrimination claims, where the employee may argue they are part of a protected group, for example, pregnant women. (This is despite the fact that the UK government and scientific advice is for pregnant women to be vaccinated.)

Ikea may argue that the dual policy is there to protect customers and other employees from risks associated with unvaccinated staff. The policy has yet to be challenged, but it is still a risky legal move by Ikea.

It also potentially raises the prospect of other non-Covid health matters being dealt with differently in the future, for example, the harm caused by excessive smoking and drinking. Even the pursuit of dangerous sports by staff in their free time, such as skydiving, skiing and other sports. Also, what constitutes a dangerous sport? Walking can be dangerous if hillwalking in poor conditions.

John Lewis is the one notable exception to this move to treat staff differently based on vaccination status. John Lewis has publicly stated that the vaccination status of staff will not result in different treatment. As ever John Lewis takes the long-term view – as Covid moves from pandemic to endemic, the lasting difference in treatment is unsustainable and undesirable. However, there is a significant short-term benefit if this policy encourages more people to do vaccinated. Though this is probably unlikely for those reluctant to be vaccinated, there may also be a belief that they will not contract Covid…so why get vaccinated anyway?