Can I cut sick pay for unvaccinated staff?

James Potts - Legal Services Director

February 09 2022

Morrisons is one of the latest companies to hit the news for its sick pay policy.

Like other big UK brands, they slashed sick pay for unvaccinated staff who need to self-isolate. Which, unsurprisingly, has divided public opinion…

On one hand, this could boost vaccine uptake and reduce avoidable staff absences. But on the other, employers could face significant backlash as a result.

If you’re debating the move to cut sick pay, ask yourself these questions first…

Do you offer enhanced sick pay?

When staff need to self-isolate, they’re currently entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) – whether they’ve taken the vaccine or not.

So, whatever your worker’s vaccine status, you still need to pay at least the statutory amount. That’s if your worker can’t do their duties from home.  

Remember, you can still claim back SSP for isolating staff through the Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme.

Are lots of your workers unvaccinated?

If you offer generous sick pay for self-isolating staff, this could soon become expensive. Especially if lots of your staff have refused the vaccine…

That’s because staff who refuse the jab may still need to isolate if they’ve been near a case of COVID-19 – even when they don’t actually have the virus.

So, it’s more likely they’ll need to isolate more often than vaccinated staff. Meaning you’re more likely to bear the brunt of costly absences.  

If that’s the case, cutting sick pay for these staff could ease your financial burden. Plus, it could encourage more employees to take the vaccine, helping you prevent unnecessary absences.

What does your sickness policy say?

If you’ve included enhanced sick pay as a benefit in your staff contracts, you can’t take this away without consent. Otherwise, you’d be breaching the contract.

Or, if you’ve given staff enhanced sick pay for two years, this becomes an implied term in their contract – so you still need to stick to this.

So, you’ll need to amend staff contracts to add a clause about self-isolation. This would outline how much sick pay you provide depending on vaccine status.

Then, you’ll need get written consent from your employees to agree to the update.

If staff disagree to the change, you have the option of terminating their contract and issuing a new one. However, this is a risky move and could cause major upset among your team – not to mention bad press.

Plus, if staff refuse their new contract and quit, you risk leaving yourself with a gap in your workforce. So, consider whether this risk is worth the potential benefit.

Have you checked for medical exemptions?

Remember, some staff will have a medical reason for refusing the vaccine. And if you cut sick pay for these employees, you could risk facing legal backlash.

Medical exemptions currently include:

  • Suffering from severe allergies to all currently available vaccines.
  • Having an adverse reaction to the first dose of a COVID vaccine.
  • A medical condition that a doctor considers to be an exemption.

If staff are exempt, provide them with their usual sick pay if they need to self-isolate. Otherwise, you’d be punishing staff for something that’s out of their control – which can lead to grievances or discrimination claims.

Are there any alternatives?

It’s understandable you don’t want to pay for avoidable absences.

However, cutting self-isolation sick pay can be a risky move. Beyond discrimination claims, you could seriously damage your relationship with your staff.

Instead, allow staff to work from home during their self-isolation period. If your employee can’t carry out their usual work from home, consider redeploying them to a different role – that they can do remotely. This means they can continue working for their usual pay.

And if it’s the safety of your non-vaccinated staff you’re worried about, keep up with COVID-secure measures (like social distancing).

Whatever you decide, speak to a HR expert first

If you constantly have self-isolating staff, the cost of sick pay might be too high. So you might need to make tough decisions for your workforce.

But before you cut sick pay, make sure you speak to a Peninsula adviser. They’ll make sure you follow all the right steps to protect you from legal risk.

And if you decide against cutting sick pay, you can still claim expert HR support. You’ll get advice on managing COVID-related absences.

Call now on 0800 028 2420 or discover unlimited HR support today.

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