WAITROSE has reversed its “punitive” coronavirus rules for staff following their exposure in the Sunday National.

Bosses at the upmarket store have issued an apology after an outcry created by the story.

It revealed that staff had been told they would have to “pay back” time taken off if they had to self-isolate due to family members showing symptoms of the deadly disease.

Any workers with severe underlying health issues who stayed at home to shield themselves would also have to pay back up to two weeks of the work they had missed, a whistleblower told the Sunday National. She said that also applied to anyone staying at home to shield a vulnerable family member.

READ MORE: Waitrose staff concerned by risk from ‘punitive’ Covid-19 measures

She said the policy could result in staff coming in and spreading infection to members of the public because they could not afford to stay at home.

“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,” she said.

“Shoppers could be put at risk if we have partners with sick spouses or children coming into the stores.”

Waitrose and John Lewis stores are part of the John Lewis Partnership and staff are referred to as partners by the company.

However after an angry reaction on social media, Waitrose reversed the policy and apologised.

“We are really sorry that we got it wrong,” said a spokesperson. “We’ve listened to our partners and changed our policy. Partners who are self-isolating without symptoms and unable to work from home will no longer be required to ‘time bank’ any of their time. Instead they will be on authorised paid absence from day one.”

The policy change means the Waitrose workers will now be treated the same as those from John Lewis who have been transferred to Waitrose stores during the coronavirus crisis.

Almost 1400 John Lewis staff have been furloughed on full pay during the pandemic after the company closed its 50 stores. Some have been asked to work in Waitrose stores but if they volunteer they will not be expected to pay back any time if they self-isolate.

In contrast, despite being told they are valued equally by the Partnership, the Waitrose staff said they had been singled out for “appalling and unfair” treatment.

“We have no choice,” said the whistleblower. “We have to work - we are ‘key workers’. We are not only expected to work our contracted shifts, but also to pick up others where necessary to ensure the food supply is maintained.”

News about of the measures was given to the workforce the same day it was announced they would be given a bonus of £200 for carrying on working.

The whistleblower said it was an insult in the light of the time bank policy.

“That wouldn't even pay back 25 hours of our time,” she said. “It's an insult to us all. Especially, as the John Lewis Partners who work for the same partnership are sitting at home, furloughed and self-isolating, on full pay for 12 weeks when Waitrose Partners who are doing the right thing will lose two weeks’ pay, or have to work an additional 78 hours.”

The company’s change of heart has now been welcomed by Menzies.

“For any democracy to thrive it must listen to those most affected by its decisions,” she said.

“John Lewis is no different and the partners in Waitrose are delighted the board listened and dropped this punitive policy.”

Other supermarket chains, including Asda and Marks & Spencer, are also allowing staff to self-isolate on full pay for seven to 14 days.

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