Cutting isolation pay for non-vaccinated staff

11 Jan 22 by Charlotte Ashton
Isolation pay

IKEA has recently been in the news for announcing that unvaccinated staff will not benefit from company sick pay if forced to isolate due to Covid exposure. They are the latest in a number of employers to adapt their polices following changes to government guidance.

Self-isolation guidance has been shortened for individuals who are vaccinated – the current position is that such workers can test to release and isolation could be as short as seven days (and possibly shorter in the near future). Unvaccinated individuals have to isolate for ten days.

Covid restrictions are increasingly a divisive topic across the workplace and employers are having to balance the interests of staff, the interests of the business, and careful adherence to ever changing rules. As a result, many employers will be considering how to treat isolation absences in terms of pay.

The law

There are different isolation rules across the UK, so employers should ensure they understand the rules applicable to their staff and do not require someone to work when the employer knows they should be isolating. To do so would risk a fine.

Employees who are required to isolate are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from the first day of absence (the usual waiting days for SSP do not apply for absences related to Covid). This does not apply for absences where someone is isolating after returning to or entering the UK.

Many employers have previously paid company sick pay where any employee has had to isolate, to ensure that employees comply with the requirement to isolate. As the Covid landscape changes, businesses are increasingly looking to minimise costs as well as encourage vaccine take up. That has led companies to change their company sick pay entitlement and limit it to vaccinated employees or those who have medical exemptions.

Risks

Employers considering limiting company sick pay to vaccinated individuals who are required to isolate need to check the wording of their contracts and policies to ensure there is not a blanket entitlement to company sick pay when also entitled to SSP.   

In differentiating between the pay available to vaccinated and unvaccinated employees, employers naturally risk discrimination claims so should consider the wide-ranging effect of such a policy carefully before making this change.

An unintended consequence of removing company sick pay for unvaccinated employees is that they may be more likely to break isolation rules and attend the workplace, putting colleagues at risk. This could minimise any potential gains from changing how isolation absences are paid.

Due to the risks, advice should be sought before adapting different isolation pay policies and each case needs to be considered on its individual details.

 


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Post by Charlotte Ashton

Senior Solicitor – Head of Immigration, ESP Law Ltd

Charlotte has over 10 years’ experience in all aspects of employment law, having qualified as a solicitor in 2009. She trained in-house with a large UK company, covering 45,000 employees, and moved to private practice on qualification. Charlotte enjoys helping growing companies understand their legal obligations and has given training and presentations to start up entrepreneurs, and business students, at a local University. Charlotte also specialises in business immigration law for the UK and has helped employers obtain sponsor licences in order to recruit from outside the UK.