Morrisons to cut sick pay for unvaccinated, isolating employees

Supermarket chain Morrisons has come under fire after outlining a policy that will mean unvaccinated employees are not entitled to sick pay if they have to self-isolate.

Speaking to HR magazine, a spokeswoman for the grocer stated: "From 1 October, following government confirmation that all adults have had the opportunity to get double vaccinated, we will no longer be paying full sick pay for pinged colleagues who have chosen not to be vaccinated."

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The policy does not apply to unvaccinated, isolating staff who have symptoms. If employees are ill and self-isolating, they will still be eligible for sick pay.

However, the policy has raised more questions around what employers can mandate to protect themselves from the impact of coronavirus.

Morrisons reportedly introduced the policy to mitigate the financial impact of the so-called ‘pingdemic.’

Kate Palmer, HR advice and consultancy director at Peninsula, told HR magazine that due to staffing difficulties, many employers are introducing measures to discourage absences.

By law, she said, employers currently are under no obligation to fully pay their staff for periods of self-isolation.

By cutting sick pay in this way, she said Morrisons may encourage its staff to be more mindful about how they behave outside of work.

“Reducing sick pay may make employees rethink their actions and behaviours outside of the workplace, including going to large events or not adhering to mask wearing and social distancing guidance.

“This in turn will help reduce the likelihood of them being in close contact with a COVID-positive person, so told to isolate,” said Palmer.

However, she warned employers like Morrisons to be mindful of discrimination with such policies.

“Employees who are medically exempt from getting the COVID jab, or those with reasonable other grounds for not being vaccinated (e.g. staff who are pregnant or have concerns about getting it due to reasons relating to their race or religion), may raise claims of discrimination if they are put at a detriment as a result of following government isolation guidance,” she said.

As long as discrimination is avoided by a consideration of exemptions Nathan Donaldson, employment solicitor at Keystone Law, said that such a policy change is lawful.

Speaking to HR magazine he explained: “Such policy change is potentially lawful as there is no legal right to contractual sick pay by reason of self-isolation, which is of course a relatively new requirement introduced by the government in response to the pandemic.”

Donaldson also highlighted that discrimination claims related to unvaccinated employees based on religious or philosophical belief still remain untested in UK case law.