Tesco ‘sickie’ plan gains backing of HR

Tesco’s new scheme to withhold sickness pay for short-term absence has been
welcomed by industry, but experts have warned employers to examine the
underlying causes before copying the retailer.

Under the trial project, staff in 20 Tesco stores will lose their pay during
the first three days off sick, as the retail giant attempts to stamp out the
‘sickie’.

After the fourth day, workers will start earning sick pay, but there will be
no compensation for the first three days.

The scheme will be piloted alongside other incentive schemes, which offer
extra holiday and food vouchers for those with good attendance records.

Staff were asked to volunteer to sign a 12-month change to their contracts.
The plan has been positively received by both business and the shopworkers’
union Usdaw.

However, employee relations adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel
and Development Ben Willmott said that while attendance incentives were a good
thing, they should be part of a holistic approach to people management.

"Firms should be aware the underlying cause of absence is a management
problem," he said.

Keith Luxon, HR policy and reward director at the Laurel Pub Company, said
companies would be in danger of demotivating workforces if they didn’t treat
workers like adults and recognise their contribution through positive schemes.

"Encouraging people who work with food to come in when they are unwell
poses serious health considerations," he said.

This could lead to numerous legal pitfalls for companies trying to follow in
Tesco’s footsteps.

Daniel Naftalin, partner at law firm Mishcon de Reya, said: "You are
effectively forcing people to go to work and this could give rise to negligence
claims as people make more mistakes when they are ill."

He also advised companies to investigate the reasons behind employee absence
so they were not left open to claims of disability discrimination.

Richard Smith, employment law expert at Croner Consulting, said failure to consult
staff before implementing such a plan could result in employees suing for loss
of wages, or constructive dismissal.

This year, Tesco’s posted record profits of £1.6bn.

By Michael Millar

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