11 January, 2022
IKEA has confirmed that it has cut sick pay for its unvaccinated UK staff, without mitigating circumstances, who would be required to self-isolate due to close contact with someone with Covid-19. The furniture retailer said workers who have not been jabbed will receive only statutory sick pay of £96.35 a week if they have to stay at home for that reason. As businesses continue to struggle with the growing number of staff absences due to the latest infection rise of the Covid-19 Omicron variant, the furniture retailer has joined a number of businesses in changing its policy, acknowledging that this is an "emotive topic".
The fundamental change implemented by the retail giant means that its fully vaccinated workforce (or those with mitigating circumstances) will receive full pay for periods of self-isolation, while its unvaccinated staff will only receive statutory sick pay for their periods of self-isolation.
Currently, in England, individuals who have been fully vaccinated do not need to self-isolate if they come into close contact with someone infected with Covid-19. Unvaccinated individuals, however, contacted through the Government's test-and-trace system, are required to self-isolate by law for a full period of 10 days.
Undoubtedly this will raise enquiries, particularly from those who are unvaccinated, which will in turn impact employee relations on the whole. The decision certainly highlights a shift in the way in which businesses are now approaching the pandemic, particularly those which are service-led and reliant on staff being in stores and warehouses. The past two years have seen the retail sector put under enormous pressure and it is likely that other businesses will follow suit, as they try and navigate the rapid surge in omicron cases.
The decision invites a myriad of complex legal issues. On the face of it, it does appear to be more of a commercial reaction to staff shortages and how to manage them and the associated cost, than any intentional discrimination of the unvaccinated, however, the move does open the door to potential discrimination issues, as the policy could put individuals with a protected characteristic at a particular disadvantage, compared with others who do not share that protected characteristic (contrary to section 19 of the Equality Act 2010 - indirect discrimination). This is no doubt why IKEA has confirmed that matters will be monitored on a case-by-case basis, as opposed to applying a blanket approach, in a bid to try and avoid any indirect discrimination claims.
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