Worried Waitrose workers have warned that customers and staff are being put at risk during the coronavirus crisis.
The firm expects staff to recover time they take off for sick family members.
Its ‘time back’ system “will mean that some people will continue to show up for work,” putting people at risk, a concerned worker told the BBC.
Waitrose said: “Where possible we are asking Partners to time bank, however we are being flexible about when time can be paid back.”
The problem affects workers who self-isolate because a family member displays COVID-19 symptoms.
The supermarket chain said: “If they are physically well enough themselves to work, then we will explore the option of working at home in the first instance.”
But few supermarket workers can work at home.
It means while they are paid in full during the time they take off, they are forced to pay that time back by working overtime for no extra pay when they return to work.
They have to cover the days they miss in full, up to two week’s worth of hours.
A Waitrose worker – who asked to remain anonymous because of fears for their job – told the BBC: “It means someone on a 35-hour contract would have to work an extra 70 hours if they had two weeks in isolation.
“They would be technically unpaid as the company would say they’ve already paid them for it.”
The worker also claimed that John Lewis staff – part of the same business – are being treated differently.
“Front line Waitrose staff are being pressured to work back hours in order to protect the business, at least that’s what they’re telling us.
“But some John Lewis and Head office staff are being paid 100% salary to stay at home.”
Meanwhile another member of staff told the Sunday National newspaper: “My biggest concern around this is that really vulnerable people will not self-isolate or shield, and those who need to self-isolate due to family illness will put society as a whole at risk due to these punitive measures.”
Flexible about pay-back
A Waitrose spokesperson told the BBC: “We are being flexible about when time can be paid back, including into 2021, and we understand that isn’t possible for everyone – particularly where partners may need to isolate for more than one period.
“So we are being as flexible and supportive to our Partners as we can and everyone will be looked at on an individual basis and discussed with their manager.”
The Waitrose worker who contacted the BBC said: “The message is that time-banking is being translated as being mandatory at store level, with paid absence only for exceptional circumstances.
“But nobody has been able to discover what these circumstances are as it doesn’t appear to be up for discussion.”
What are other supermarkets doing?
Other supermarkets appear to have been more generous when it comes to supporting staff during the coronavirus crisis.
Marks & Spencer said: “Any colleague who needs to self-isolate for seven to 14 days can do so on full pay.
“Colleagues who are pregnant, 70+ or with the health conditions specified by the Department of Health, are already on leave for 12 weeks on full pay.”
At Asda, boss Roger Burnley said: “We’ve committed to supporting our colleagues that have been identified by the government as needing to self-isolate for 12 weeks, ensuring these colleagues receive full pay for their isolation period.”
The supermarket is also offering 12 weeks fully paid leave to those over the age of 70, or who are pregnant and classed as vulnerable, as well as the carers of extremely vulnerable people.