Sickness and unvaccinated staff: How is it impacting the UK workforce?

Dr Jonathan Lord, HR expert at the University of Salford Business School shares his thoughts on UK firms cutting sick pay for unvaccinated workers.

A number of large employers have taken the decision to cut sick pay for unvaccinated staff who must self-isolate after coming into contact with someone who has Covid.

Morrisons were one of the first firms to introduce this in October 2021 with Next and Ikea recently stating their intent to introduce measures which they believe can tackle the costs associated with the pandemic, specifically staff absences.

Those who are not vaccinated and who are a close contact of someone who has tested positive are currently required to self-isolate for 5 days, although this requirement does not apply for people who are fully vaccinated.

Morrisons employs around 100,000 staff with Next employing more than 37,000 people in the UK and Ikea 10,000 people similarly, have been coping with higher levels of staff absence as a result of the spread of the Omicron variant.

Although not technically illegal, tribunal claims are most likely to be heard to determine the issue and it does create an employment relations dilemma for these companies.

The stark reality of these polices is that unvaccinated workers who are required to isolate could now receive as little as £96.35 a week (the Statutory Sick Pay minimum). Financially this would put employees in a very difficult position and could result in employees in avoiding having to isolate. It could also create a two-tier workplace where there are staff who are and are not vaccinated but will be working within different policies which can foster tensions between the different categories of vaccinated staff.

The online grocer Ocado have also confirmed this week that it had adopted the same policy as Next, Morrisons and Ikea, which is an indication that more organisations, especially in certain sectors, are leaning towards policies which are not as brutal as ‘no jab no job’ but could have severe ramifications on staff moral and retention.

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