An increasing number of companies intend to cut sick pay for unvaccinated employees who need to self-isolate where there are no mitigating circumstances. Here we look at the implications of these sorts of policies for employees and employers.
Scandinavian furniture giant IKEA, and Bath based water supplier Wessex Water are two organisations who have recently announced two-tier sick pay systems for employees depending on whether or not they have received Covid-19 vaccinations.
The changes in policies have occurred following the updated guidance on self-isolation in August 2021. This states that anyone who was double vaccinated was no longer required to self-isolate if they have been in close contact with an individual who has tested positive for the virus or where they were in the same household.
What are the proposed cuts to sick pay at IKEA and Wessex Water?
IKEA have provided guidance for three scenarios where an employee will receive full company sick pay/ where an employee will only receive statutory sick pay.. The three scenarios are listed below:
- ‘fully vaccinated co-workers or those that are unvaccinated owing to mitigating circumstances which, for example could include pregnancy or other medical grounds, will receive full pay’.
- ‘unvaccinated co-workers without mitigating circumstances that test positive with Covid will be paid full company sick pay in line with our company absence policy’
- ‘unvaccinated co-workers without mitigating circumstances who have been identified as close contact of a positive case will be paid statutory sick pay’.
It is clear that these changes are favoured to those vaccinated and could have serious financial implications to those employees who are unvaccinated and without mitigating reasons as the average weekly take home for an employee is between £400 and £450 and usually when off sick can enjoy an enhanced sick pay in accordance with the company policy. Any employee only receiving statutory sick pay so long as eligible would receive statutory sick pay of £96.35 a week.
Wessex Water have implemented similar cuts to sick pay. During the pandemic the company did not furlough members of staff, continued to provide services and feel that it is important for the company to continue providing essential services with a vaccinated workforce. Those employees who are unvaccinated are encouraged to get vaccinated in order to protect themselves, the customers whose homes they are entering and their colleagues. Wessex Water have also stated that any employees who wish to get vaccinated can book this appointment during work time.
Whilst these policies clearly discourage employees from being in the unvaccinated unless mitigating circumstances apply category, a two tier system is always going to be difficult to administer and police.
Wessex Water in their approach are clearly trying to encourage vaccination and allow time off for this because they have seen an increase in the numbers needing to self isolate and in a statement said ‘they need everyone to be available so we can continue to provide uninterrupted essential water and sewerage services’, the question is will this sick pay policy help them achieve this, will it in fact encourage unvaccinated individuals to become vaccinated so that self isolation for them is not required? In some cases yes this may occur but in many cases there are a percentage of the population who for many reasons normally individual to each person have chosen not to be vaccinated and nothing will change this view.
We have seen similar arguments in care homes with the introduction of compulsory vaccinations and are seeing similar arguments put forward by NHS employees who soon will also have the same requirements as care homes.
These new sick pay policies which are pro-vaccination are often seen as a way to strongly encourage employees to get vaccinated or run the risk of financial penalty.
What do these types of policy mean for employers?
There are a number of potential issues that could arise when implementing a policy of this nature and careful consideration needs to take place to ensure that there is no or reduced risk for a potential unlawful deduction from wages claims or discrimination claims being brought. Discrimination claims may include those who are disabled but their disability as defined by the Equality Act 2010 but which isn’t covered by one of the current medical exemptions for vaccination exemption or if an employee’s religion does not allow them to get the vaccine and it is their religious belief, this is why it is very important before bringing in any policy you ensure you take advice on the content but also that you check your contract of employment allows such a change. Employers will also need to take care when discussing with employees why they are unvaccinated and to take a view and possibly advice on the reasons given before going forward.
Whilst it is not a legal requirement for most workers to be vaccinated employers will need to ensure that each case of an unvaccinated individual who must self isolate is considered on a case-by-case basis, and that the individuals circumstances are taken into account. This could prove to be very time consuming for businesses.
This can be a good tool for businesses to encourage vaccinations in the workplace but you should also consider whether there is a need for everyone to be vaccinated and if so what is the need for, risk assessments may also be appropriate.
GDPR issues relating to the collection an storage or sensitive personal data may arise if you are asking your employees their vaccination status something we have covered under a previous update.
For further advice on the issues discussed in this article, please contact one of the Employment Law Team