IKEA is slashing sick pay for unvaccinated UK workers

Different rules.
Different rules.
Image: Reuters/John Sibley
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IKEA’s unvaccinated staff will not even receive £100 ($135) per week if they need to isolate.

The Swedish furniture retailer, which employees more than 10,000 people across 22 stores in the UK, typically pays between £404 and £452 ($547 and $612) per week. But the unvaccinated, who are mandated to isolate for at least seven days following exposure to Covid-19, will only receive the statutory sick pay (SSP) of £96.35 that is stipulated by law. (Since last October, fully vaccinated brits are not required to self-isolate if they have been in close contact with someone infected.)

“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,” an IKEA spokesperson told The Mail on Sunday (Jan. 9). Special circumstances, such as pregnancy or other medical grounds, would make workers eligible for full pay.

Several employers admit the SSP rate may be too low, leaving people struggling to put food on the table. Some might ignore covid rules and spread the disease by stepping out anyway. But companies are also struggling with mass absenteeism and rising costs.

As employers and employees try to strike a balance, some ministers are rallying to cut isolation to five days. Meanwhile, the best solution,  scientists say, is still to get people vaccinated.

Companies want workers to get vaccinated

IKEA’s move is a financial penalty of sorts.

The company wanted its workforce vaccinated, and made plenty of accommodations. Since last year, IKEA “committed to giving paid time off work for employees, in addition to providing sick pay as standard for the minority who experience minor side effects like fever or a headache,” a May 2021 UK government press release noted.

Cutting sick pay is likely an attempt to encourage more vaccinations. Furthermore, it’ll force down costs.

IKEA is not alone in penalizing the unvaccinated in the UK. Other companies, like grocery chain Morrisons and utility firm Wessex Water, have also cut sick pay for the unvaccinated. At most workplaces, only a handful of people will be adversely affected since nine in 10 Brits have received at least one shot of the covid-19 vaccine.

Could staying unvaccinated cost someone their job?

The US private sector often has tougher vaccine mandates. For instance, Delta Airlines charges unvaccinated employees $200 a month. Several companies, including Google and Citigroup, are firing US staff who refuse to get jabbed.

In the UK, “no jab, no job” policies are not easy to implement due to stronger worker protections and rules against discrimination. “Requirements must be proportionate, non-discriminatory and make provision for those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons,” a spokesperson for the equality and human rights commission has said. Employers could face lawsuits if they implement inflexible mandates, an HR management firm warned.

But it’s not totally impossible. Last June, Pimlico Plumbers mandated all new hires be vaccinated. Since November 2021, care workers have to take two shots to keep their jobs. But as the UK moves to a “living with covid” policy, such debates may soon be moot.