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Ikea ‘no vax’ sick pay policy could be ‘divisive’ – CIPD

11 January 2022

Story by
Sarah Rice

Unvaccinated Ikea staff will receive cut in sick pay

Questions have been raised about Ikea’s decision to cut sick pay for employees who have not been vaccinated against Covid and need to self isolate.

The retail giant joins Wessex Water in undertaking the move, acknowledging it was a “highly emotive topic” but claiming its policy had to evolve with “changing circumstances”.

Unvaccinated Ikea workers isolating due to Covid infection or contact with someone isolating, could now receive £96.35 a week – the Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) minimum.

Average pay for Ikea shopfloor staff of £10.10 an hour outside London and £11.30 in the capital – the equivalent of £404 and £452 for an average working week.

The move comes as firms struggle with mass staff absences and rising costs. The Swedish retailer has 21 large stores and more than 10,000 staff in the UK, said ‘mitigating circumstances’ would be taken into consideration.

‘Divisive’

However, the move has raised significant questions for employers and HR professionals.

Rachel Suff, senior policy adviser for employment relations at the CIPD, said: “Employers should follow their usual sick pay policy for any employee who needs to self-isolate due to COVID-19.

“Different policies depending on an employee’s vaccination status could be quite complex and come with potential legal risks. They could also be divisive for the workforce.

“While cutting sick pay for certain workers could encourage some to get vaccinated, it could also mean that some are less likely to test themselves or self-isolate because they may not be able to afford to take time off if sick pay is limited to Statutory Sick Pay at around £96 per week.”

‘Controversial’

Last month the guidance on self-isolation for vaccinated people was relaxed. However, there was no change to the guidance for unvaccinated people who come into contact with positive cases, and who must still self-isolate for 10 full days after their date of exposure to the virus.

Ikea has been consistent in its encouragement of employees getting ‘jabbed’ along with other major firms such as Santander and Asda, which reportedly encouraged employees to receive a coronavirus jab, offering paid time off for vaccinations.

An IKEA spokesperson said: “Since the start of the pandemic, the health and safety of our co-workers has been our highest priority. Since then, IKEA has been working with a separate absence addendum, which is regularly reviewed in line with changes to Government guidance.

“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.”

The high profile of Ikea’s sick pay changes has prompted other businesses to review their own position.

Donald MacKinnon, group legal director at employment and HR specialists WorkNest, said they had seen a spike in interest.

He said: “For those employees who are already working from home, or whose jobs can be carried out away from their office, the decision may make little practical difference as they can continue to work while they are self-isolating.

“For employees, such as those in the retail sector who cannot work from home, Ikea’s stance will be controversial. Given the numbers of employers who are now contemplating following Ikea’s example, it would seem unlikely that the decision will provoke a backlash against the firm itself and may be seen by some consumers as common sense.

“While most employers cannot compel their staff to be vaccinated, it is a further encouragement to unvaccinated employees to get the vaccine to avoid the possibility of losing pay should they have to self-isolate.”

Complex issues

The move by Ikea and Wessex Water has also raised issues over worker’s personal privacy and civil liberties in general.

Silke Carlo, director of personal privacy campaigning charity Big Brother Watch, said: “All workers have the right to medical privacy and some people have complex, highly personal reasons for not being vaccinated which may include religious reasons, medical issues or pregnancy.

“Workers are under no obligation to divulge this information to their employer. There are long-standing legal protections for workers to maintain privacy over such matters, but IKEA seems to expect workers to divulge such situations in order for the company to preside on a ‘case by case’ basis over whether an individual deserves sick pay or not.

“It is quite possible that IKEA will find their approach tested in an employment tribunal.”

‘Skivers charter’

The profile of the story, which was first covered in the Mail on Sunday, has also raised the question about the level of statutory sick pay and potential need for review.

Rustom Tata, chairman and head of employment at law firm DMH Stallard, said: “What the debate is highlighting is the low level of SSP, which at less than £100 per week is barely 20% of the average salary in the UK.

“While some will say that SPP shouldn’t be a ‘skivers’ charter’ at a time of continuing public health crisis, it seems like this particular safety net isn’t fit for purpose.

“As the Institute for Employment Rights identified, nearly two thirds of employers think the current level is too low, but the government has so far resisted calls for a review of the SSP scheme.”

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