injection needle and empty vial on a blue background

Why Offering Cash to Employees to Get Vaccinated Is a Problem

February 24, 2021 Employee Experience
Lance Haun Reworked contributing writer
By Lance Haun

For years, organizations have been trying to crack the code on helping employees stay healthy. As early as the 1880s, companies like National Cash Register and Pullman Company were instituting twice-daily exercise breaks and establishing athletic associations. 

This has continued on in earnest since the post-World War II economy shifted healthcare costs to fall on organizations in the U.S. Everything from tobacco cessation programs to mental and financial well being are covered by the robust employer programs of today. With B2B technology leaders such as Virgin Pulse and B2C2B plays like Fitbit leading this market, it’s a multi-billion dollar opportunity for tech leaders and a multitrillion-dollar cost for organizations and employees.

Of course, COVID is one of the biggest health care challenges that has ever hit organizations and companies are looking to get vaccines into people’s arms. Even work technology providers like Oracle and ServiceNow are deploying technologies to track vaccines among their workforce.

Getting vaccinated is a good thing but there are challenges when it comes to getting a shot with some sort of monetary reward. 

Get a COVID Shot, Get Dollars

A Morning Consult survey showed that just 56% of employed adults are willing to get the vaccine. Break it out by industry and some of the lowest numbers come from industries filled with essential, hourly workers. Food and beverage, transportation and retail industries all scored well below the national average. 

An earlier survey found that 60% would be willing to get a shot if their employers gave them $100. So, employers wanting to boost participation are offering monetary incentives. Dollar General is offering employees four hours of pay for receiving a completed vaccination. McDonald’s is offering the same. Kroger is paying employees $100. Kroger competitor Lidl is offering $200.

These differ from other forms of incentives, such as offering paid time off to receive a vaccine, recovering from possible side effects or offering flexible scheduling for shift work. 

By offering a monetary incentive for getting a vaccine, organizations may have to find reasonable accommodations for those who may be allergic to a vaccine or are otherwise unable to take it. That could mean organizations pay employees for not getting a vaccine. Right now, it’s also unclear how organizations would be able to handle non-medical objections, such as on the basis of religious practices or personal objections. 

Related Article: Oracle and Zoom Launch Products to Reopen the Office & More HR Tech News

Putting That Money to Better Use

There’s something that feels wrong about using a relatively small cash reward to try to entice poorly paid workers to get a vaccine. Rather than try to understand the hesitation employees may have, it’s a shortcut to an end result that organizations ultimately want.

This point of view isn’t coming from a vaccine skeptic, either. My wife is a published author in the peer-reviewed health journal Immunity and our family is fully vaccinated, including annual flu shots, even though my phobia of needles spikes my heart rate enough on my Apple Watch to throw me a warning. 

But some groups have legitimate reasons to be distrustful of public health initiatives. Just 43% of Black Americans, who have been mistreated in the name of health care for centuries, are willing to get the vaccine. That’s the lowest of any group.

While larger health care reform is needed to right those injustices, organizations shouldn’t be trying to buy their way into herd immunity because their employees are desperate for a few extra dollars. 

Instead, organizations could take alternative measures to increase vaccination rates. Examples include:

  • Offer time off and flexibility for vaccines and possible side effects: Removing barriers to getting a vaccine and dealing with possible side effects is one way many organizations are responding today.
  • On-premise vaccination days: Health care workers have had an advantage here but once the vaccine becomes generally available, organizations with large worksites should be offering it to employees on-premise.
  • Empathetic education: Racial- and religious-sensitive education for employees can help answer legitimate questions about vaccination in a way that’s not dismissive of concerns.
  • Help for family members: Especially as employees are living in larger, multi-generation households, getting older or at-risk family members vaccinated can be as much of a concern as employees.
  • Ongoing protective measures: Even for those willing to get a vaccine, it may be many months until everyone who wants one can get one. For those employees skeptical or unwilling to take a vaccine, continuing to apply broad, protective measures for in-person work will be necessary.

While I love the intention behind trying to pull out all the stops on getting the vaccine rolled out, there’s just too much that can go wrong with paying hourly workers to get the vaccine. Figuring out better ways to encourage vaccination not only respects your employees more, it’ll also be a better experience for them overall.

And honestly, your frontline employees probably already deserve a $100 bonus, with or without a vaccine. 

About the Author

Lance Haun lives life at the intersection of people, work and technology. He's currently a practice director of strategy and insights for The Starr Conspiracy and a contributor for Reworked and ERE.net.

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