Next, which employs around 44,000 people, said unvaccinated staff who are “pinged” by the NHS app or told to self-isolate by Test and Trace will only be paid statutory sick pay.
Employees who test positive for Covid-19, regardless of vaccination status, will be paid the more generous sick pay offered by the business, which is based up their standard rate of pay.
The retailer is the latest major business to restrict sick pay for unvaccinated staff. Morrisons and Ikea have announced similar changed in recent days.
Richard Fox, a partner at law firm Kingsley Napley, said: “The fact that Next has made this move may illustrate a shifting mood for employers on the vaccination issue.
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“Whereas employers adopting a policy of “no jab no job” or now “no vax, less sick pay” may have been seen as extreme or outliers until now, we are seeing employers becoming increasingly emboldened in their approach.
“This may be due to experiences of outbreaks in their employee ranks or because of the more zero tolerance policies of employers overseas, particularly in the United Sates.”
In the US, Citigroup bank this week said it would fire any staff who were unvaccinated by next month.
The tougher stance comes as politicians around the world toughen their rhetoric on the unvaccinated. Boris Johnson last week said anti-vaxers were “completely wrong” and spreading “mumbo jumbo”. In France, President Emmanuel Macron has said he wants to “piss off” people who don’t get the jab.
Financial penalties in the form of lower sick pay could help encourage more people to get the vaccine but some legal experts warned that the policy could create issues for employers.
Hannah Ford, partner at Stevens & Bolton, said: “Penalising the unvaccinated is so far untested in the Employment Tribunal but it could create liability for discrimination.”
News of Next’s decision to limit sick pay for the unvaccinated came as the UK government officially cut the isolation period for those who test positive from seven days to five.
Matthew Fell, CBI Chief Policy Director, said: “Firms are under the cosh dealing with mounting staff absences from self-isolation, so this move should have an almost immediate benefit.
“Businesses have been urging a reduction in the self-isolation period, providing health experts confirm it is safe, as a pragmatic change that will help keep the economy open as we adapt to live with the virus.”
Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) National Chairman Mike Cherry said: “We’re pleased to see this decision from the Health Secretary and UK Health and Security Agency today.
“Over the last month we have made the case that, if it can be done safely, shortening the isolation period would make a huge difference to the hundreds of thousands of small businesses that currently have staff off work.
“Mass isolation of two million people has hit the workforce just at the moment when firms are trying to bounce back from yet another disrupted festive season.”
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