High street retailer Next cuts sick pay for unvaccinated staff

High street retailer Next cuts sick pay for unvaccinated staff who are forced to self-isolate if they are identified as a close contact of someone with Covid

  • Next said all employees who test positive for Covid-19 will be paid in full 
  • But unvaccinated staff have to isolate because they have been identified as a close contact of someone with the virus will only receive statutory sick pay 
  • The policy comes after employees witnessed a jump in absences in recent weeks

High street retailer Next is cutting sick pay for unvaccinated staff who are self-isolating due to Covid exposure.

The company, which employs around 44,000 people, said all employees who test positive for Covid-19 – regardless of whether they are vaccinated – will be paid in full.

However, unvaccinated staff who are required to isolate because they have been identified as a close contact of someone with the virus will only receive statutory sick pay unless there are mitigating circumstances.

The policy, which was first reported by the BBC, comes after employees witnessed a jump in absences in recent weeks due to the rapid spread of the Omicron strain of the virus.

It comes after a number of other firms, including Morrisons and Ikea, introduced similar policies for unvaccinated workers.

In September Morrisons announced plans to cut sick pay for unvaccinated employees – in an effort to convince more people to get the jab.  

Next has cut sick pay for unvaccinated staff forced to self-isolate (Yui Mok/PA)

Chief executive of the Bradford-based group, David Potts, said pay changes were part of a strategy to mitigate cost rises from shortages of HGV drivers, supply chain disruption, and growing wholesale prices. 

YOUR RIGHTS: STATUTORY SICK PAY 

Employees can get £96.35 per week Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if they are too ill to work.

This is the minimum, but some employers choose to offer more than this amount.

To qualify for SSP, workers must be classed as an employee and have done ‘some work’ for their employer; earn an average of at least £120 per week; and have been ill or self-isolating for at least four days in a row, including non-working days.

Agency workers are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay.

SSP could be lost if workers do not tell their employers that they are unable to work before the deadline they set – or within seven days if they have not set one.

The maximum allowance for SSP is 28 weeks, and those who are getting Statutory Maternity Pay do not qualify.

The legal position of employers treating vaccinated and unvaccinated staff differently is untested. 

Richard Fox, of law firm Kingsley Napley, said: ‘With the Government telling everybody to get the vaccine and care workers forced to get it, it could be difficult for an employee to mount a claim.’

Retail giant Ikea said its policy had to change along with the circumstances as it cut sick pay for unvaccinated staff who had to self-isolate due to being exposed to Covid. 

Self-isolation guidance for the vaccinated was relaxed last month, but there was no change to guidance for unjabbed people who come into contact with positive cases.

The move means unvaccinated workers, who are required by the Government to isolate for 10 days after close contact, could receive as little as £96.35 a week under Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) obligations, a legal minimum.

That compares with the average pay for Ikea shopfloor staff of £10.10 an hour outside London and £11.30 in the capital – the equivalent of £404 and £452 for an average working week.

Ikea, which has 21 large stores and more than 10,000 staff in the UK, said ‘mitigating circumstances’ would be taken into consideration. 

‘We appreciate that this is an emotive topic and all circumstances will be considered on a case by case basis, therefore anyone in doubt or concerned about their situation is encouraged to speak to their manager,’ said a spokeswoman.

Ikea later clarified that the policy only affects unvaccinated workers with ‘high levels of absence’.

The retailer is among a string of companies such as Santander and Asda which encouraged employees to receive a coronavirus jab, offering paid time off for vaccinations.

Next currently pays store sales staff and stock assistants between £6.55 and £9.21 an hour and warehouse operatives between £9.30 and £11.26 an hour.

However, unvaccinated staff who have not tested positive but are self-isolating could receive as little at £96.35 per week, the national minimum for statutory sick pay.

Last month, self-isolation regulations were changed for vaccinated people, meaning they do not need to isolate even if they are in close contact with someone who has tested positive but are expected to take daily lateral flow tests.

However, the rules still require unvaccinated close contacts of people with the virus to self-isolate for 10 full days after their date of exposure.

It comes a week after the retailer reported strong Christmas trading on the back of soaring demand for partywear.

However, the company also said that deliveries were hit before Christmas due to staff shortfalls in warehousing and distribution networks.

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