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‘#BoycottNext’ trends on Twitter as retailer cuts sick pay for unvaccinated staff

‘#BoycottNext’ has trended on Twitter after its decision to slash sick pay for unvaccinated staff was met with an outpouring of criticism.

On Thursday, the retailer became the latest company to dock sick pay for unvaccinated staff who must isolate after being exposed to Covid. The clothing, homeware and beauty retailer joins British supermarket Morrisons and Swedish furniture company Ikea in a crackdown on unvaccinated workers in what has been blasted as ‘discrimination’.

Employment lawyers are now questioning the legality of changes that mean unvaccinated staff lose out on sick pay, issuing a warning that these policies could result in a wave of lawsuits. Some said the ‘idiotic’ move would potentially result in unvaccinated employees who feel sick not testing, going to work as usual; furthering the spread of Covid.

 

Online, the move was widely condemned, and over 1,000 tweets have been posted today with the hashtag ‘#BoycottNext’.

Critics of the move are plenty – and they are furious. Many have vowed to boycott the company, blasting the policy as a form of discrimination.

“I will be cancelling my ⁦@nextofficial account. I have been a customer for decades and have spent thousands. No more,” one Tweet read.

 

Others questioned why staff would tell, or be forced to tell, the retailer their vaccination status in the first place.

 

“It’s disgraceful what they are doing. The vaxxed can get covid as easily as anyone,” someone else said.
Another user described the move as “medical apartheid”.

 

“It’s called discrimination,” another reaction read, whilst others couldn’t understand how the company could “get away” with the decision. Worries were also voiced that the new policy will result in friction between staff and their employees, both those who are, and those who are not jabbed.

M S Hopkins on Twitter: “https://t.co/2epfErtLAY These rulings by companies are not valid, as there’s nothing enshrined in company law that allows them to get away with this. It will also cause friction between staff and their employees, both those who are, and those who aren’t jabbed. #BoycottNext” / Twitter

 

In a statement that echoed that of Ikea, Next said today that the issue of vaccination is an “emotive topic” but the action was taken in view of the fact that absences have risen.

Swedish favourite Ikea used the same phrase in a statement released on Monday that acknowledged vaccination was an ‘emotive topic’ but claimed its policy had to change ‘to evolve with changing circumstances’. The company said it plans to assess each instance on a “case-by-case basis”.

Ikea said workers who have not been vaccinated will receive only statutory sick pay of £96.35 a week if they have to stay at home to isolate. That figure is small when compared with £400 for a 40-hour week at Ikea.

In a copycat statement, Next said today it had decided to dock pay to protect the needs of its staff and shareholders after seeing higher than expected absences for this time of year.

Next staff who have not been vaccinated and test positive for Covid will continue to receive their sick pay in full, however. The move only applies to those who have to isolate because of being identified as a close contact. Those who are unvaccinated but self-isolating will be given the statutory minimum sick pay of £96.35 a week, reports claim.

However, employment lawyers have questioned the legality of changes that mean unvaccinated staff lose out on sick pay, issuing a warning that these policies could result in a barrage of lawsuits.

Employment solicitor at UK law firm Robinson Ralph, Simon Robinson, told i that there are “far reaching legal implications for policies of this nature” and that the new rules enacted by international companies to lower sick pay only for the unvaccinated presents “potential discrimination issues”.

“There are potential discrimination issues which include that such policies can treat people less favourably who are not vaccinated or not able to be vaccinated,” he said.

“This would include for example because of a medical condition, or a protected belief.” Mr Robinson added that cutting sick pay for unvaccinated staff “could set the pace for the introduction of ‘no jab no job’ policies”.

“[They also might] have an impact on employee engagement with those who feel that they are being both coerced into being jabbed and being treated like second-class citizens and maybe even leaving,” he told the British national morning paper.

Similar concerns were raised by Sarah Calderwood, who is a partner at law firm Slater Heelis. She said the moves to reduce sick pay for unvaccinated people that fall genuinely ill might present legal problems.

She did however state that companies have the ‘discretion’ to withhold sick pay from “those who are self-isolating but have chosen to be unvaccinated” – as is the case with Next.

“An employer cannot withhold either statutory or contractual sick pay from an employee who has refused the vaccine and contracted Covid-19,” she told i.

“The reason an employee has become ill does not affect their entitlement to [statutory sick pay]… Many contractual sick pay schemes are likely to have contractual force, and do not usually distinguish between different types of sickness or the circumstances in which a member of staff became ill,” she said.

“Contractual sick pay provisions must allow [a company] to exercise discretion not to pay company sick pay to those who are simply self-isolating but not unwell. If their contract allows this, then there is no issue with taking this stance for unvaccinated staff.”

A questioning of the legality of the move also played out online, with many saying the decision could not be legal based on the Equalities Act of 2010.

Grumpy old guy on Twitter: “As with IKEA I believe this is illegal based on the equalities act of 2010. This is disgusting, I will not shop at these or any other establishment that thinks this is ok BBC News – Next cuts sick pay for unvaccinated staff forced to self-isolate https://t.co/bNNNLT0rcb” / Twitter

Both Ikea and Next follow in the footsteps of the UK’s fourth largest supermarket Morrisons, which slashed sick pay for its unvaccinated staff in September.

Morrisons defended the decision by saying that the intention was to encourage vaccine uptake, but also to mitigate the “biblical costs” of the pandemic, after a recent drop in profits. UK company Wessex Water also announced the same rule this week.

People who have had the vaccine no longer have to isolate themselves if they have been exposed to a Covid-positive person but anyone who has not been jabbed must still self-isolate for 10 days after exposure.

Next pays its store sales staff between £6.55 and £9.21 an hour, with warehouse workers receiving an hourly wage of between £9.30 to £11.26.

Next’s controversial decision comes just a week after announcing it was on track for record profits after sales over the Christmas season jumped by a fifth. One of the UK’s oldest and most established retailers, Next’s survival and success has been labelled “extraordinary,” with the company dubbed “the cockroach of the high street.” Amid retail doom and gloom, its continued success has been touted as astonishing, with its Christmas sales recorded as being £70 million higher than expected, as online orders for glitzy dresses and smart suits making up for quieter high street stores.

Will the decision affect the retail powerhouse’s success? Time will tell.

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