Workers on the minimum wage at an Argos warehouse have been offered an 80p an hour pre-Christmas bonus – but only if they don’t take time off sick.
In a move that one leading employment lawyer warned “would almost certainly amount to indirect disability discrimination”, temporary workers at the retailer’s Basildon depot have been told they will not receive an “uplift” if they call in ill once in any single week.
The workers at the depot in Essex were told about the new system in a note which said:
“Agency colleagues will not lose the 80p uplift if they go home due to no work etc, but they will lose it if they go sick or don’t attend for work. If they go sick or don’t attend on one day, they lose their uplift for all of that week, but they then start fresh the next week with another opportunity to earn the uplift.”
But Michael Newman, a partner at the law firm Leigh Day, said if anyone with a chronic illness or disability that caused them to take sick days was not paid the extra 80p an hour, the employers could face a legal challenge.
“It is an apparently neutral measure that would impact workers with disabilities more than others, who may not be able to help regular absences,” he said. “[The employer] would have difficulties if they did not look at the individual circumstances of workers with disabilities to see whether they should get the uplift.
“If [they] wanted to not discriminate, they would have to review the circumstances of individuals who did not get the uplift, and ensure that the reason that they were not getting the payment was not their disability.”
The 80p an hour bonus applies to temporary agency workers employed for Argos by agencies across all its distribution centres.
“As we prepare for our peak Christmas trading period it is a business priority to increase our temporary workforce to help meet higher demand and deliver an unbeatable customer experience.
“Additional resource is at a premium in the run-up to Christmas so to ensure we attract, retain and increase the attendance of our temporary workers, we offer an attendance bonus of 80p per hour, which applies to all agency staff across all of our distribution centres. We take the treatment of all staff – whether directly employed by us or indirectly via a third party agency – extremely seriously.”