Clothing and homeware retailer Next has become one of the largest UK employers to cut sick pay for unvaccinated staff who are self-isolating after being exposed to Covid.

Next, which employs around 44,000 people, said unvaccinated staff must isolate after coming into close contact with someone carrying the virus will only receive statutory sick pay of £96.35 per week.

It would mean a substantial reduction in pay for any full-time worker affected. Next sales staff earn between £6.55 and £9.21 an hour and warehouse operatives between £9.30 and £11.26.

Workers who have been vaccinated will receive full pay if they have to isolate after a close contact. All employees who test positive for Covid-19 will also be paid in full, regardless of their vaccination status.

Next told the BBC, which first reported the move, that it was an “emotive topic” but it had to balance the needs of staff and shareholders.

Next chief executive Lord Wolfson told Bloomberg: “Absenteeism is definitely a factor at the moment and sickness levels are higher than we would normally expect at this time of the year.”

Several other large businesses, including Morrisons and Ikea, have recently announced similar policies in response to a rise in staff absences caused by large numbers of Omicron variant cases.

The UK’s largest grocer, Tesco, will also limit the amount of paid sick pay for unjabbed staff who are self-isolating.

Self-isolating staff who have not been vaccinated will use up their allocated days of paid sick pay, while those who have had a jab will not. Any staff who test positive for Covid-19 will not use up their sick pay entitlement.

A relaxation of public health rules last month means that people who are vaccinated do not need to isolate after coming into close contact with someone who has tested positive. However, unvaccinated people must isolate for 10 full days after exposure.

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