The multinational Swedish furniture retail company has recently announced a new policy reducing the sick pay for its unvaccinated staff who are required to self-isolate after close contact with a positive case of Covid-19.
This applies to unvaccinated staff with no exemptions or extenuating circumstances and specifically does not apply to staff who have tested positive for Covid-19, regardless of their vaccination status. Its effect is that the sick pay for unvaccinated staff during self-isolation will now be the Statutory Sick Pay minimum (SSP), which is currently £96.35 a week. This would therefore be a significant cut to unvaccinated employees’ income if they had to self-isolate. Nonetheless, Ikea is not the first company to make this move; companies such as Morrisons, Wessex Water and, most recently, Next Retail, have also approved similar policies.
As a company heavily reliant on the physical presence of staff to carry out its services, Ikea has likely made this move as a reaction to increased staff absences caused by self-isolation requirements of unvaccinated staff – particularly now highlighted with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
Ikea has specifically said that the new policy is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach, but rather cases will be considered on an individual basis to take into account the unique circumstances of each employee.
This approach may be designed to lessen the risk of indirect discrimination claims, since this new policy could have the effect of putting some unvaccinated people with protected characteristics at a particular disadvantage compared to others without those characteristics.
At this point, the current Covid-19 rules in England require unvaccinated people to self-isolate for 10 days if they are identified as a close contact of a positive Covid-19 case. Vaccinated people, however, do not have to self-isolate at all.
To be vaccinated or not remains a choice of most individuals in England with only care homes currently legally mandating staff to be vaccinated. This new Ikea policy may have the effect of putting additional pressure on unvaccinated employees to get vaccinated or risk literally paying for it.
It is also worth considering whether there is a risk that such a policy may have the undesired effect of encouraging unvaccinated employees to ignore government advice to self-isolate and instead continue working because they simply cannot afford 10 days of SSP.
In any case, as the highly contagious Omicron variant spreads all over the globe (and whichever variant follows in the future), it is foreseeable that many more companies may approve such policies or indeed any legal measure to minimise their financial burden.