Sick pay cut for unvaccinated employees
In December 2021, the Government amended the self-isolation rules to the effect that a person who is identified as a ‘close contact’ of somebody who has tested positive with COVID-19 does not have to self-isolate if they are fully vaccinated. However, the rules did not change for those who are not fully vaccinated (who still need to self-isolate for 10 days).
In response to the new rules and citing a desire to mitigate the “biblical costs” of dealing with the pandemic, some large employers (including, notably, Next, Ikea and Morrisons) have, following review of their company sick pay provisions, adjusted their policies to state that any unvaccinated employee who is off on sick leave because they:
- have been identified as being a close contact of someone who has tested positive, and
- are, therefore, required to self-isolate for 10 days
will not be entitled to company sick pay.
Instead, these employees will only receive statutory sick pay, which is currently £96.35 per week, unless they have mitigating circumstances (e.g. they are medically exempt, etc).
It is important to note that, under these revised sick pay arrangements, if an unvaccinated employee tests positive for the virus and has to self-isolate in consequence, they will still be entitled to company sick pay (if the employer offers this). In those circumstances, the employee will be absent due to being ill, rather than having to isolate due to being a close contact of someone who has tested positive.
Employers contemplating such a change to their sick pay policies will need to first check their employment contracts carefully to assess what contractual entitlement (if any) their employees have to enhanced company sick pay. Such a major change in terms could constitute a breach of contract if imposed unilaterally and, therefore, consultation with affected employees may be required.
A real concern with this policy shift is that unvaccinated employees who are supposed to self-isolate will either: continue to attend work when carrying the virus but being asymptomatic so as to avoid a loss of pay; or inform their employers that they are actually ill rather than self-isolating.