Can Morrisons slash sick pay for unvaccinated workers?

Can Morrisons slash sick pay for unvaccinated workers?

It was reported last week that the super market chain Morrison’s are planning to cut sick pay benefits for non-vaccinated workers. Chief executive David Potts blamed ‘biblical costs of managing Covid’ as the reason for the decision, after claiming to have helped workers stay safe during the pandemic.

This seems like a bold move on Morrison’s part, and not an easy policy to introduce. One of the initial thoughts on every reader’s mind must be ‘can Morrison’s legally do this?’. Well, possibly, but it is fraught with pitfalls for the supermarket chain, and they will need to jump through some hoops. The business will also need to have a number of exemptions from the policy for it to be lawful.

The key problem Morrison’s will face are:

  • Potential indirect discrimination, i.e., by saying that no employee will get company sick pay if they are sick with COVID and are not vaccinated, this disadvantages certain employees with protected characteristics.

A good example of this is employees with health conditions who have been advised against getting the vaccine. To not pay these employees company sick pay would likely be disability discrimination. There would also be good arguments for discrimination on the grounds of religion/belief, race, maternity and even sex discrimination.

  • Potential breach of human rights
  • Consultation may be needed with unions and/or employee representatives to be able to legally introduce the change to the sick pay policy.
  • There are also practical issues of implementing this including obtaining proof of vaccination and the data protection issues that this raises.

There is little doubt that Morrison’s will have a team of lawyers and will understand the risks of introducing such a policy. However, any business looking to make drastic changes to their company policies due to Covid-19, or otherwise, should certainly seek professional advice first to protect their business.

If you are searching for further information on making changes to employees contracts of employment can read our Employers’ guide: changing terms and conditions of employment.

About our expert

Sally Gwilliam

Sally Gwilliam

Employment Partner
Sally joined the employment team in August 2021 as a senior employment solicitor and became a partner in October 2023. Sally qualified in 2004 at international law firm DLA Piper, and worked there for a further 11 years. There she gained excellent skills and experience in employment law working for medium and large businesses across multiple jurisdictions and on complex legal and strategic issues. Since 2015, Sally has worked for two smaller legal businesses where her client base changed to SMEs giving her a fantastic understanding of the differing needs and priorities of any size of business and in a wide range of sectors.

Our offices

A national law firm

A national law firm

Our commercial lawyers are based in or close to major cities across the UK, providing expert legal advice to clients both locally and nationally.

We mainly work remotely, so we can work with you wherever you are. But we can arrange face-to-face meeting at our offices or a location of your choosing.

Head Office

Floor 5, Cavendish House, 39-41 Waterloo Street, Birmingham, B2 5PP
Regional Spaces

Stirling House, Cambridge Innovation Park, Denny End Road, Waterbeach, Cambridge, CB25 9QE
13th Floor, Piccadilly Plaza, Manchester, M1 4BT
10 Fitzroy Square, London, W1T 5HP
Harwell Innovation Centre, 173 Curie Avenue, Harwell, Oxfordshire, OX11 0QG
1st Floor, Dearing House, 1 Young St, Sheffield, S1 4UP
White Building Studios, 1-4 Cumberland Place, Southampton, SO15 2NP
A national law firm

To access legal support from just £145 per hour arrange your no-obligation initial consultation to discuss your business requirements.

Make an enquiry