Ikea has cut sick pay for unvaccinated staff who need to self-isolate because of Covid exposure, joining a growing list of firms changing their rules.
The retail giant acknowledged that it was a “emotional topic,” but stated that its policy had to evolve in response to changing circumstances.
Wessex Water will begin implementing sick pay cuts this week, and several major corporations in the United States have begun penalising unjabbed workers.
It comes at a time when businesses are dealing with widespread employee absences and rising costs.
Unvaccinated workers at Ikea who are required to isolate may now be paid as little as £96.35 per week – the Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) minimum.
Average wages at Ikea are between about £400 and £450, depending on location and, as is the case at many companies, staff get enhanced sick pay. The move was first reported by the Mail on Sunday.
Ikea, which employs about 10,000 people in the UK, said in a statement: “Fully vaccinated co-workers or those with mitigating circumstances will receive full pay for self-isolations.
“Unvaccinated coworkers will be paid for self-isolation in accordance with our company absence policy, with close-contact isolation paid at Statutory Sick Pay.” We recognise that this is an emotional subject, and all circumstances will be considered on an individual basis; therefore, anyone who is unsure or concerned about their situation is encouraged to speak with their manager.”
In England, people who have received at least two doses of the Covid vaccine do not need to self-isolate if they have been in close contact with someone infected with Covid. Unvaccinated people who come into contact with the government’s test-and-trace system must still be isolated under the law.
Many businesses reported labour shortages throughout 2021, and are now experiencing mass absences due to the more infectious Omicron Covid strain.
On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson reiterated that the data showed that the people most seriously affected by Omicron remained unvaccinated.
The new sick pay policy at Wessex Water goes into effect this week.
Employees who do not have at least one Covid-19 vaccination and do not have a valid medical reason or a confirmed vaccination appointment will receive only statutory sick pay if they are required to self-isolate due to close contact with someone testing positive.
“The vast majority of our workforce has been vaccinated and it’s important as a company providing essential services with key worker employees, the remainder get vaccinated to protect themselves, customers, and their colleagues,” said a Wessex Water spokesperson.
“Absences due to Covid have more than doubled in the last week, so we need everyone to be available so that we can continue to provide essential water and sewerage services without interruption.”
The company stated that it did not furlough employees during the pandemic and that those who self-isolated were paid in full.
Last year, the supermarket Morrisons reduced sick pay terms, and several companies, including the banking giant Citigroup, implemented a “no jab, no job” policy. Delta Airlines imposed a surcharge on unvaccinated employees enrolled in the company’s healthcare plan.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the HR industry’s trade body, reported a significant increase in inquiries about sick pay policy.
The CIPD’s head of public policy, Ben Willmott, told the BBC that changing sick pay terms for specific workers had advantages and disadvantages.
It may encourage employees to get vaccinated, but others may be less likely to test themselves or isolate themselves because they cannot afford time off work at the statutory rate of around £96.
His organization’s official policy was not to differentiate between employees because the consequences could be complex, and there could be legal issues.
“Because of legal risks, you’d have to manage it on a case-by-case basis,” Mr Willmott said.
David Josephs, the CEO of food importer and retailer All Greens, told the BBC earlier this month that employees at some companies were flouting Covid rules for financial reasons.
“We are aware that many employees in our industry do not receive sick pay. Ours do, but employees on limited contracts or earning minimum wage cannot afford to be absent from work “He stated.
Sarah Ozanne, an employment lawyer with CMS, also warned of complex legal issues and said striking the right balance was difficult.
“This action [by Ikea] appears to be a reaction to staff shortages and how to manage them rather than any intended’discrimination’ against the unvaccinated,” she said.
“However, employers should consider whether their actions are proportionate to the goal of getting employees back to work.”