Sick pay and unvaccinated employees

It’s fair to say that the Omicron variant has taken the EU by storm, resulting in major staffing shortages across the UK and hospitality in particular. H0w will your business manage sick pay for unvaccinated employees?

One retail giant, IKEA, the Swedish furniture business, has recently announced that they will be cutting the sick pay of their unvaccinated staff where they are required to isolate because of being identified as a close contact of a positive case. This is a controversial move that has divided opinion amongst employees and commentators alike

The retailer highlighted that they’re aware of the “many unique circumstance” and that it would consider all incidents “on a case-by-case basis” and that unvaccinated employees who test positive themselves will still receive full sick pay.

IKEA employs almost 10,000 people in the UK and as a business, has been hit by staffing shortages due to the Omicron variant. They took decisive action as a business and others are taking a similar stance.


What are the Legal Implications?

Reasons that employees may have for choosing not to vaccinate include pregnancy, religious and philosophical beliefs and race – all of which are protected by the Equality Act 2010.

Whist these are considered to be mitigating circumstances, any differentiation in treatment for those employees who are unvaccinated, could lead to grounds of legal dispute on the basis of discrimination, if these reasons fall under the Equality Act.

Although such measures might encourage the uptake of the vaccine amongst employees, this is not guaranteed and could lead to further staff shortages as unvaccinated individuals leave their current place of employment in favour of alternative employment without restrictions or reduced benefits.

It also raises questions such as: would unvaccinated employees be less inclined to reveal their vaccination status? Or could this prevent them from actively testing to avoid self-isolating for which they would only receive the statutory sick pay of £96 per week, statistically not sustainable for the average lifestyle and outgoings. (Last month, CIPD reported that two-thirds of employers back an SSP increase)

Is this change conducive when seeking to retain staff and prioritise their wellbeing?

Many organisations are facing intense pressure to manage staffing and the cost due to shortages and other circumstances in the middle of a pandemic.

Jules Quinn, employment partner at King & Spalding, warns: “Any two-tiered sick pay policy for the unvaccinated is a legal headache”

Watch this space, we are certain that IKEA will not be the last to announce such measures.


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