Covid is causing people to throw their principles out the window
The legal adage is that “hard cases make bad law.” Increasingly, it seems Covid cases make bad law, too: the moment covid is in scope, people start throwing principles out the window and implementing policies they would never consider for anything else.
Cutting sick pay for unvaccinated staff is the latest example. Morrisons has joined Ikea and Next in saying that unvaccinated staff who have to isolate after contact with a Covid case will have to get by on statutory sick pay, instead of whatever more generous wages vaccinated people get when they are off. I can understand why the companies came up with this: vaccinated staff don’t have to isolate, so it’s only the unvaccinated who have to take these long periods off work even when they’re not ill. Employees are making a choice not to be vaccinated, and that costs the company money. Of course the company finds that irritating.
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But the moment you zoom out from Covid and think about the general principle, you realise what a dangerous precedent this sets.
A few years ago, a colleague of mine broke his leg playing football at the weekend. He had to take a day off work for doctors’ appointments: should I have denied him sick pay because it was his “fault” he was injured? After all, he could have spent the weekend sitting safely on the sofa and kept his bones intact.
There are countless choices people make that affect the likelihood of them taking time off work for ill health. They might be overweight. They might have regular unprotected sex. They might smoke. What role do I have as an employer in those choices? Almost none: I might want to run employee health programmes to try and up the general wellbeing of my team, and reduce my overall sick leave. But I cannot, in the end, control how people spend their time when they’re not on the clock.
You could make the case that there shouldn’t be any sick pay, just as you could make the case that people should have to pay for their healthcare costs: if people faced the full financial consequences of ill health, perhaps they would make more of an effort to stay healthy. The problem is that you cannot, in the end, control your health. So a system where everyone who gets ill is punished financially metes out punishment to millions who did nothing wrong.
For better or worse, in the UK we have a collective system for protecting our health. We are all equal in the NHS, whether we drank six pints at lunch and fell off the pavement or we ate a macrobiotic salad while racing on the Peloton.
Sick pay is the same: you need time off when you’re ill, regardless of why you are ill. And that’s a principle that’s worth sticking with, not one that should be jacked in just because Covid is awful and vaccinations are good.