As efforts continue to get as many Americans as possible vaccinated against COVID-19, employers are contemplating their roles — with many already taking action. If your organization has yet to formally decide on how openly you wish to push employees to get inoculated, it’s not too late. You still have time to roll out a well-communicated vaccine incentivization program.
Why not require it?
Many people are wondering whether employers can mandate that employees get vaccinated. The short answer is, generally, yes — as long as they allow exceptions.
More specifically, at the very end of 2020, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued guidance stipulating that employers may require most employees to provide proof of vaccination as long as exceptions are allowed for employees with disabilities and those with sincerely held religious beliefs. The guidance also urged employers to engage in good faith efforts to seek accommodations for disabled or religious workers who claim to be unable to receive vaccinations.
However, even if you follow the EEOC’s advice, you may still upset certain workers and even provoke legal action if you require most employees to obtain proof of an inoculation. For this reason, it’s typically less risky to incentivize, rather than require, employees to get vaccinated.
What are some options?
There are various options for how to motivate employees to get vaccinated, depending on how strongly you feel about the issue in relation to your workplace and whether you want to allocate actual dollars to the program. Some examples of incentives in use by larger employers right now include:
Cash or a gift card. Some companies are offering employees a one-time cash bonus or a widely used gift card for producing proof of vaccination. This isn’t a recommended approach for organizations dealing with cash flow issues but, for businesses where this is a viable option, money in employees’ pockets may be a strong incentive.
Wage-related incentives for getting vaccinated. Rather than a straight cash payment, some businesses are supplementing the hourly wages of employees who produce proof of vaccination. For example, a worker could receive an additional two to four hours of pay for getting vaccinated.
Paid time off (PTO). In relation to incentivizing employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine, PTO typically takes two forms: 1) PTO to get vaccinated, and 2) PTO as a “thank you.” Many employers are offering employees a block of PTO (four to eight hours) to get inoculated. You could then add another block of time as a show of gratitude. You should also be prepared to offer paid sick time or paid leave for employees who suffer side effects from the vaccine.
The right choice
As of this writing, the EEOC hasn’t yet issued guidance specifically about COVID-19 vaccine incentives. The agency is expected to do so at some point.