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HR reluctant to cut sick pay for unvaccinated

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Despite a recent increase in firms, including Ikea and Next, opting to cut their above-Statutory Sick Pay for unvaccinated employees, many HR professionals seem wary of potential discrimination.

In a LinkedIn poll for HR magazine, more than three quarters (76%) of those in HR said they would not cut sick pay to the SSP minimum for unvaccinated employees. 

Many of the respondents had concerns over the potential for employers to open themselves up to discrimination claims.


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Claire Hopkins, wellbeing consultant at Metanoia Lifestyle, commented on LinkedIn: “This approach is completely discriminatory and I'm sure there will be legal cases which confirm this.”

Earlier in January furniture retailer Ikea joined Morrisons in reducing its sick pay to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for unvaccinated workers while they isolate after close contact with someone infected with COVID.

In England, people who have had at least two doses of the vaccine are not required to isolate if they come into close contact with someone with the disease, but those who remain unvaccinated must isolate for 10 days.

Wessex Water implemented a similar policy on 10 January, making it the latest to impose a financial cost on remaining unvaccinated.

Matt Jenkin, employment partner at law firm Moorcrofts, told HR magazine: “While on the face of it, cutting sick pay down to SSP for employees who have not been vaccinated looks an attractive option to employers, I don’t think it is surprising that those in HR have concerns about implementing such an approach."

Employers who take up the policy, he added, run the risk of discrimination claims unless they can objectively justify such a tactic, which may be difficult in many cases.

“In addition,” he said, “sick pay entitlement for many employees forms part of their contractual terms.  

“In those cases, simply imposing a change to sick pay exposes employers to unfair or constructive dismissal claims. There is also the added headache of the need to process vaccination status for employees which can lead to personal data protection concerns.”

Paddy Lillis, general secretary for retail trade union USDAW, said: “With some companies changing contractual sick pay policies, it is even more important that the government ensures there is a proper safety net for those workers who are required to take time off work to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Statutory Sick Pay is simply not enough to survive on and workers earning less than £120 per week aren’t entitled to any statutory pay at all.

“People who are ill shouldn’t be worrying about their finances, and they shouldn’t be forced into work due to worries about paying their bills. Sick pay needs to be paid from day one, at an individual’s normal rate of pay, and it should be paid to all workers.”

HR magazine polled 528 people in a self-selecting study between 17 and 18 January 2022 on LinkedIn.com.