Immunization Incentives – are More Carrots, Less Stick the Key?

Crowe & Dunlevy

Defining company policy around vaccination has never been more critical. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced human resources departments and executive management to consider establishing a formal stance on required vaccination for employees.

Last week President Biden announced that he has asked the Department of Labor and its Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue an emergency temporary standard to carry out a mandate requiring all private employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workers are fully vaccinated or require unvaccinated workers to produce a negative COVID-19 test at least once a week. However, it is anticipated this new emergency rule may take weeks to be published and will almost certainly be the subject of litigation that may slow its roll-out. So, the question of whether or not to voluntarily begin mandating vaccines for employees remains a topic of great interest. However, making immunizations a condition of employment can cause unintentional repercussions like staffing departures, employee morale issues and logistical challenges due to accommodations required for disabilities and sincerely held religious beliefs.

Even if your office is not ready to require vaccination as official corporate policy, offering incentives can help encourage a higher percentage of fully vaccinated employees. Your company’s positive reinforcement method may be what helps a hesitant individual choose to schedule a vaccination appointment.

Here are four ideas to reward and incentivize employees who choose to be vaccinated:

  • Money matters – Pay a cash bonus: How much would it cost in terms of time, labor and institutional knowledge to replace staff? Offering a one-time cash payment is far cheaper and may save additional lives by protecting employees.
  • Grant additional paid time off: Adding to employees’ paid time off accruals may be just the motivator needed, in addition to the ability to get vaccinated on company time. Planning for employees to be out will ultimately prove more convenient than dealing with unexpected sick leave absences and having to quarantine employees.
  • Arrange for logistical assistance: Coordinating transportation to the vaccination site may be difficult for employees who do not drive. Others may be unsure of where vaccines are offered to schedule an appointment. Host a vaccination clinic at your office, arrange appointments with local providers, or consider pre-paying ride-hailing services like Lyft or Uber.
  • Host a prize raffle open only to those who furnish proof of vaccinated status but be mindful of HR limitations Draw names for prizes or allow departments to compete for the highest percentage of vaccinated employees.

Tailor options for incentivizing vaccination to your team’s needs. With these or any other prize offerings, be cautious of creating differential treatment that might adversely affect those employees in protected categories who are unable to participate. Be sure to check in with your HR department and employment law counsel to ensure fair treatment as you work to keep employees safe and healthy.

This article first appeared in The Journal Record on September 15, 2021, and is reproduced with permission from the publisher.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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