Retailer Next has become the latest company to cut sick pay for unvaccinated staff who are self-isolating due to exposure to coronavirus. The retailer confirmed that all staff who test positive – regardless of whether they are vaccinated – will be paid in full. However, unvaccinated staff who have to isolate because they have been identified as a close contact of someone with the virus will only receive statutory sick pay - as little as £96.35 a week - unless there are mitigating circumstances.
People in England who have had at two doses of the vaccine are not required to self-isolate if they have been in close contact with someone infected with Covid-19, instead they are required to do daily lateral flow tests to check that they have not developed the virus. But unvaccinated people who are contacted through the government’s Test and-Trace system must, by law, self-isolate.
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Next- which has its head office in Leicester- pays store sales consultants and stock assistants between £6.55 and £9.21 an hour, with warehouse operatives earning between £9.30 and £11.26 an hour.
The retailer's new policy comes after a number of other firms, including Morrisons and Ikea, brought in similar policies for unvaccinated workers, as employers face mass absences due to the highly infectious Omicron variant.
It means unvaccinated UK workers who are forced to isolate would be entitled to as little as £96.35 a week during 10 days of isolation - compared with weekly pay of more than £400 for an average shop floor worker.
Managers at the furniture retailer, which employs 10,000 staff in the UK, also said they will consider mitigating circumstances, including pregnancy or other medical grounds.
Last autumn, Morrisons, the UK’s fourth largest supermarket, cut sick pay for unvaccinated workers who need to self-isolate, in part to encourage workers to get jabbed.
Implementing similar policies, sick pay cuts will also come into effect at Wessex Water, headquartered in Bath.
Wessex Water staff who do not have a medical reason to be unvaccinated - or an appointment to get a jab scheduled - will only receive statutory sick pay if they have to isolate due to being a close contact.
Employment lawyers have said such moves are likely to be motivated by commercial reasons and expect more to follow suit.
Tina Din, an associate in law firm Bindmans LLP's employment team, said while employers would expose themselves to legal challenge if they applied a blanket policy on unvaccinated sick pay, the mitigating circumstances exemptions provide flexibility in dealing with individual cases. "There is no legal obligation on retailers to have vaccinated staff, unlike in the care home sector, for instance. Therefore, it is vital each employee’s reasons for being unvaccinated are taken into account," she told ITV News.
Ms Din said unvaccinated workers who went to an employment tribunal, claiming they were discriminated against in their choice not to get jabbed, would likely fail in their cases.
"The employer would be able to defend itself if it can show that the steps taken in applying a policy such as Next and Ikea have introduced, is a proportionate means to achieve a legitimate aim.
"That aim could include ensuring the health and safety of the workforce, ensuring there are enough staff at work and financial savings."