I joined Toni McDonald on BBC Hereford & Worcester's breakfast show this morning to discuss IKEA's widely reported revisions to its sick pay policy. 

IKEA workers who are not vaccinated will not receive the usual company sick pay (full pay) for periods of self-isolation after they have been identified as a close contact. IKEA's policy apparently changed in September 2021, but has only just been made public in recent days. The policy update followed a variation to the government's rule change in August, which meant that those who are fully vaccinated are no longer required to self-isolate after being alerted to close contact with someone who has tested positive. 

Typically, sickness policies are non-contractual and may be changed by an employer without consultation or notice. There are some circumstances where sick pay may be guaranteed in the employment contract, but that is usually contingent on the employee being unable to work because of their own sickness, not the fact that they have been in contact with someone who is sick. The government's extension of statutory sick pay to cover certain periods of self-isolation departed from this, but employers are under no obligation to go further.  Statutory sick pay is currently £96.35 per week. 

Legitimate reasons for change

Given the impact of attendance and cover that the Omicron variant has had on many businesses, attendance at work wherever possible will likely be a priority and potentially a legitimate reason for a change in policy. Where employers do implement a new policy, they should be careful to consider the specific reasons for the policy change, whether some categories of worker will be unfairly affected by the change and if alternative measures may be better.  Those most affected are likely to be those employees who are pregnant or have a disability which limits their ability to be vaccinated. IKEA has said it will make an assessment on a case by case basis as to how and when it implements its policy, with its stated aim only to target those with high levels of absence. Managers should be careful about how any discretion is exercised.

If an employer intends to check the vaccine status of its employees, it should carry out a data protection impact assessment. There is specific ICO guidance on Covid pass and vaccine checks which should be considered alongside any policy changes. 

Communication is key

There is a lot to think about and each business must consider carefully the impact any change of policy may have. There is an overriding duty for employers to protect the health and safety of their employees as well as any customers who may be potentially exposed. But policies which are not properly communicated, explained and reasoned may not be followed. Where employees fear they may not be paid, they may see little alternative but to attend work to receive full pay when they should be isolating, risking greater damage to the workforce and others. 

For further information listen to our discussion this morning at BBC Sounds, from 1:28:05.

If your workforce has been affected by workplace attendance due to Covid-19 and you are considering a new sickness policy, do contact kevin.poulter@freeths.co.uk to discuss the options available or take advice from a solicitor or HR professional.