Workplaces have developed a novel response to developments in the global COVID-19 pandemic. In a recent trend, several large U.S. companies have begun paying their employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Your company might be wondering, “Is this right for my business?”
Offering to pay employees for getting vaccinated is a new twist on an old theme. Workplace incentivization programs are well-known in the U.S., including in our employer-administered healthcare coverage. Companies often extend certain benefits to employees to help bring down the costs of their healthcare insurance premiums. Some workplaces offer gift cards to employees who meet particular wellness goals, for example, while others provide full-flown gym memberships to their workers.
Dollar General was one of the first companies to offer this program, stating they were inspired by their mission of “Serving Others.” The company is hoping to “remove barriers” faced by frontline essential workers, such as their retail staff, who desire to get the vaccine but otherwise fear lost pay or not being able to take time off work. Dollar General will offer its hourly employees the equivalent of four hours of pay if they complete the vaccination regimen for COVID-19. Salaried employees can switch their hours around to accommodate a medical appointment.
Many other companies have followed suit, including Aldi and Trader Joe’s, by promising similar pay incentives. The grocery delivery service Instacart is offering a $25 stipend to its employees and contractors who get the vaccine. Germany-based grocer Lidl is offering its U.S. workers $200 to get vaccinated, while Brazil-based meatpacker JBS is providing $100. These companies often employ people deemed “frontline” or “essential” workers, those most at risk for contracting COVID-19 in the course of their job duties.
Companies offering such incentives know that they are up against a bevy of misinformation about COVID-mitigation efforts, from false information about face masksto outright distrust of the vaccine. Popular resistance to these efforts is likely the reason these employers have not yet required their employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine—although they would be well within their rights to do so. Instead, these companies are offering positive reinforcement to encourage people to make the decision on their own, thereby protecting co-workers, the companies’ customers, and the general public.
Because the stakes are so high, some healthcare employers are joining the movement and offering cash bonuses to employees who vaccinate, from $100 at BRIA Health Services to $500 at a Houston hospital system. Some businesses so badly want to reopen that they are offering customers a cash incentive. Village Tap, a beloved Chicago bar, is now offering its patrons a $10 gift card if they show proof of vaccination.
Pay incentives to protect public health might seem like an effective solution in our highly commodified culture, in which just about everything has a price tag—including one’s resistance to vaccination. But that is precisely the problem, according to some skeptics.Paying to vaccinate could send the wrong message, that vaccination is an undesirable activity, and not something that should be done in the interest of public health. A cash incentive could also lead wary employees to assume the vaccine is riskier than it actually is. Furthermore, in light of the amount of conspiracy theories proliferating online, a payment incentive for vaccinating could even imply some sinister motive.
Ultimately, it will be up to each company to decide which course of action is most aligned with its cultural values and its employee base. Dollar General, as an example, offered the payment incentive in part because of its service mission. Companies will also have to weigh whether paying for vaccination is likely to motivate workers to take the needle, or if it will push them further into skepticism.
If your company is unsure how best to motivate workers to get vaccinated, brainstorm with your management team and include human resources and employment counsel to ensure a sound, safe, lawful, and effective plan. That way your business can be part of the solution as we all strive to protect one another.