Discount retailer Wilko has apologized after issuing “reckless” guidance to staff telling them they could go to work even if they test positive for coronavirus.
Following the government’s decision last month to remove the legal requirement for self-isolation in England as part of its plans to “live with covid”, an employment policy memorandum was sent to staff at the homeware chain, which employs to some 16,000 people in more than 400 stores. in the United Kingdom.
The document, released on Monday amid rising Covid-19 infection rates and hospitalizations in England, said: “If you test positive for Covid-19 and feel well you can continue to come to work, if you feel too wrong, you can follow the absence. policies.”
The revelation prompted a quick U-turn from the company, with CEO Jerome Saint-Marc blaming a “miscommunication,” in a statement Monday night.
“When we’re wrong about something, we raise our hands, admit it and work to correct the situation,” Saint-Marc said. “Today’s news has highlighted some miscommunications within our Covid-19 policies, and I wanted to reassure all of our customers and team members.
“Our advice to team members who have symptoms of COVID or test positive is that while they are no longer required by law to self-isolate, they should stay home and avoid contact with others. This will help reduce the chance of spreading Covid-19.”
He added: “As throughout our 92 years on the high street, the safety and well-being of our shoppers and teams is at the heart of our business and we sincerely regret any understandable concerns our communications may have raised.”
An employee cited by mirror, who first reported the document, alleged that a company policy of moving to statutory sick pay (SSP), totaling £96.35 per week, after a set of Covid absences means that staff “He comes to work with the virus, because if it is his second time they will not be paid.”
A Wilko spokesman said the independent: “At a minimum, team members receive SSP if they are absent due to Covid in all circumstances. When company sick pay has been exhausted, we have an exceptional process in our policy to support team members depending on the circumstances.”
They added: “We will continue to care for our team members to the best of our ability.”
Although ministers scrapped the legal obligation to self-isolate on February 24, government guidance in place until April 1 still states that people must isolate for at least five days if they test positive for coronavirus.
While praising Wilko for having “now done the right thing”, the GMB union said the independent that the company’s “initial dictate for workers to come in with Covid could well have set a precedent for other companies looking to take advantage of the government’s relaxed self-isolation rules.”
“There is a huge gap between the letter of the law and the reality of the situation, which is that expecting workers to enter the workplace with covid will only prolong the pandemic and put the health of others at risk,” the representative said. national health union. and the director of security, Daniel Shears.
“Any employer that does is behaving with reckless abandon as our daily UK figures show this Omicron wave is not over yet.
“Wilko deserves great credit for publicly acknowledging that they were wrong. We hope that all employers will follow his lead and ultimately that ministers in all governments will re-examine his position on this issue.”
Dr. Simon Clarke, a cell microbiologist at the University of Reading, told the financial times that Wilko’s initial guidance, which he said would have left some colleagues and clients vulnerable to “serious illness and possible hospitalisation”, had “called into question the wisdom of the government in abandoning legally mandated self-isolation”.
Alex Collinson, who works as an analysis and research officer at the Trades Union Congress (TUC), wrote in a personal capacity on Twitter that while Wilko’s U-turn was “good news”, he should not take cover to make the companies don’t do this.
“There will be other employers doing it,” he said. “And there will be a lot of workers in other jobs forced in because they can’t afford to be out.”
The dispute came as TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady wrote to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng criticizing measures which mean that, from April 1, employers will no longer need to explicitly consider coronavirus in their risk assessments.
“Ministers are sowing dangerous confusion about Covid safety at work,” said Ms O’Grady, whose union has warned workers face a “terrible choice” between working while sick with coronavirus and risking a hit. financial.
“Wherever you work, you have the right to be safe. And your employer has a responsibility to fully assess the risks you face and take appropriate action,” said Ms O’Grady, adding: “The government has sent a mixed message.
“And this can leave workers facing risks that could and should be prevented.”
Since all restrictions were lifted in England at the end of February, infections and hospitalizations have started to rise again, with the Zoe Covid study pointing to almost 246,000 new daily cases in the UK and government data showing there were 10,315. people in the hospital with coronavirus in the week. as of March 10, an increase of 18.4 percent from the previous week.
However, experts have warned that the absence of restrictions has made it harder to properly track the country’s epidemic and understand why.
Additional report by PA