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Can employers cut sick pay for unvaccinated staff?

Companies including IKEA and Wessex Water are reportedly cutting sick pay for unvaccinated employees who are self-isolating; instead of receiving full pay, they will now only be eligible for SSP.

Under current Government guidance, people in England who have received at least 2 doses of the Covid vaccine are not required to self-isolate, however, unvaccinated people contacted through the test-and-trace system must still do so by law. Other UK nations have similar rules.

We asked Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula UK, about the implications of this for employers and this is what she said:

“Employers across the country are experiencing difficulties with staffing levels due to self-isolation absences. As such, many are having to take steps to mitigate the impact this is having on their business and its performance, including introducing measures to discourage the absences in the first place.

“Employers are under no obligation to maintain full pay for periods of self-isolation (unless contracts provide this); they only have to meet SSP requirements for eligible employees.

“Reducing sick pay may make employees be more careful with their actions and behaviours outside of the workplace, including going to large events or not adhering to mask wearing and social distancing guidance. This in turn will help reduce the likelihood of them being in close contact with a Covid-positive person and having to isolate.

“With that being said, employers should be careful that introducing these rules don’t treat employees unfavourably, particularly those with underlying health issues.

“Employees who are medically exempt from getting the Covid jab, or those with reasonable other grounds for not being vaccinated (e.g., staff who are pregnant or have concerns about getting it due to reasons relating to their race or religion), may raise claims of discrimination if they are put at a detriment because of following Government isolation guidance. A detriment in this situation includes loss of pay.

“IKEA, and all other business who wish to adopt a similar approach, must first consider the wider impact this may have on staff and put in place adjustments where needed, to avoid any potential risk of claims.”