The news, headlines and guidance regarding COVID has been changing from day to day and at advo, the HR Team have been avidly watching and considering all of the latest news.
The likes of Ocado, Next, IKEA & Morrisons have recently announced that they are cutting sick pay for the unvaccinated. This is attention grabbing news and food for thought! These companies have stated that unvaccinated workers who have to self-isolate because they have been in close contact with a positive case will not be eligible for Company Sick Pay, they will only be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) which is currently £96.35 per week.
Given the increased levels of absence and subsequent costs of Company Sick Pay, many organisations may be considering implementing similar changes.
While the headlines are bold, all of the businesses announcing such rules do have a caveat to this headline news – in all cases, mitigating circumstances will be considered. Therefore, this is clearly not being treated as a blanket rule within these organisations. This is due to the simple fact that these big businesses are fully aware that implementing such policies creates a significant risk of discrimination claims.
Alison Gill, HR Manager at advo points out that the reason an employee has chosen not be vaccinated may one of any number and could be related to a health issue, pregnancy, religion, a philosophical belief against vaccination, or race. These are all protected characteristics under the Equality Act and could give rise to a discrimination claim. Alison continues:
“We are yet to see any claims at the Employment Tribunal, and there is no case law or precedent yet. What we do know is that any employer who decides not to pay Company Sick Pay will have to objectively justify every individual case where it intends to pay less sick pay to an unvaccinated individual. Restricting sick pay on the basis of vaccination is effectively creating a minefield for the employer. It’s worth bearing in mind that the awards for discrimination claims at tribunal are unlimited – so the decision to save money on sick pay now could result in costing more in the long run!
It’s not only the threat of tribunal claims which employers need to consider. At advo, we recognise that these types of policies could cause debates, unrest and potentially even division between vaccinated and unvaccinated workers. As such when implementing such a policy, careful conflict management may be required.
For any size business, any change in policy can be challenging, but this type of policy presents a significant risk, which we will always discourage. Instead, we suggest encouraging employees to get vaccinated, focusing on positive reassurance, understanding and factual communication, rather than creating penalties for those unwilling or unable to be vaccinated. Talk to us today if you need hr advice, guidance or support in any of the issues mentioned in this article.
Content provided by Alison Gill, HR Manager at advo