Would you slash sick pay for the unvaccinated?
This week, IKEA and Wessex Water have made headlines for taking a controversial stance on unvaccinated employees. They have announced cuts to sick pay for unvaccinated staff who must isolate because of Covid exposure.
I’m going to be brutally honest with you.
When I first read about this, part of me thought: fair enough. We need to get our economy back on track. We must learn how to live with the threat of Covid over the long-term, which means a robust vaccination programme for all, not just a few. Business leaders cannot plan for growth – or even survival – when unknown numbers of people may be off work at a moment’s notice.
But then I took a pause.
Because there’s a very big difference between thinking that a move is logical and believing that it’s ethical.
Being a leader means that you are more than a steward of share price, you are responsible for the wellbeing of your team – your entire team, not just the people who are ideologically aligned with you or the needs of the business. That is non-negotiable.
I tried to imagine how I would have reacted to the challenge of unvaccinated employee absence when I was CEO of BigChange. The answer is that I would never have slashed their sick pay, especially at a time when many families are struggling financially after two tricky years. That is not something that would have sat right with me and the rest of the management team.
I’m not naïve about the complexity of this issue. Different businesses have very different needs and challenges. Do I think that the NHS should be allowed to mandate that all staff have a vaccination? I think I do. When your people meet vulnerable patients all day, every day, it makes sense to enforce such precautions. Would I have done that at BigChange, where many of our team work from home? I don’t think I would.
The Covid situation has never stopped evolving since the pandemic first started two long years ago. Right now, the Omicron strain seems to be less dangerous than previous variants, with most people (especially the vaccinated) reporting mild symptoms. To penalise the unvaccinated now that the actual risk is lower than before seems counterintuitive.
Businesses must be wary of taking actions that can be construed as corporate greed. There are always unscrupulous business leaders who see stories about supply chain issues, rising inflation, or increased labour costs, and raise their prices even though their company is entirely unaffected by all these challenges. Those leaders give business a bad name.
Of course, there is evidence that individuals may be abusing the self-isolation rules to get out of coming to work, pretending to have had contact with someone who tested positive. Perhaps this might spur a business leader to take a tough stance. To my mind, this is no different to people who “pull sickies” and pretend to have the flu. If this is rife in your organisation, the issue is with the culture itself. You can either try and mete out punishments to prevent it happening or you can put your efforts into making your company somewhere people enjoy working. I know which route I would choose…
And then there’s the political situation. It’s unhelpful that every day there seem to be more revelations about parties at Downing Street that broke national Covid restrictions. Penalising regular people at a time when it’s clear our reigning elite are ignoring the rules with impunity is a risky move, in my opinion.
I am an entrepreneur and a business builder – I believe in making decisions that help your organisation to thrive. But before all that, I’m a human being who cares about the people around me, be that my team, community, or wider industry. Even when times are tough and our businesses struggle, let’s never lose sight of that humanity, or all is lost.