COVID-19 vaccine: Should employers give workers paid time off or other incentives to get vaccinated?
After working at a Petco store in Colorado for 11 months during a pandemic, T.J. Daniels was hoping that the company would give him time off to get a COVID-19 vaccine and deal with any potential side effects.
So far, nothing.
Several major employers, such as Dollar General, McDonald’s and Olive Garden, have announced incentives for workers to get vaccinated. But most, including Amazon, Target and Walmart, are not committing to provide any extra pay or time off to workers to get their shots.
“We haven’t really heard anything about any vaccination plan,” Daniels said. “They’re not doing anything to help us.”
He called on Petco to provide a $500 incentive to workers to get vaccinated and at least three days of paid time off to deal with the two required shots and 24 hours of potential side effects.
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“That would be really cool if companies could throw together some sort of thing like that,” said Daniels, a member of United for Respect, a nonprofit that supports worker rights.
Contacted by USA TODAY, Petco released a statement saying it’s poised to announce a plan.
“We wholeheartedly support the rapid roll-out of COVID-19 vaccinations and we believe essential workers should be prioritized,” the retailer said. “We are currently finalizing the details of a vaccine support program for Petco partners and will have more details to share soon.”
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Encouraging COVID-19 vaccinations
Advocates say incentives will encourage adoption, which will result in more protection for employees and customers. It will also potentially limit downtime that can occur when workers contract the virus. Experts say a high proportion of the U.S. population needs to get vaccinated to build herd immunity, which would limit the coronavirus from continuing to spread.
But for now, most employers are saying only that they’re strongly encouraging vaccination but essentially forcing workers to do it on their own time.
It doesn’t make sense for businesses to refuse to give workers a few hours of paid time off to get vaccinated, said Denise Rousseau, professor of organizational behavior and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz College.
“Why the heck would you not?” she said. “You want to encourage people to take the vaccine.”
Bunny Ellerin, director of the Healthcare and Pharmaceutical Management Program at Columbia Business School, said it’s the moral thing to provide incentives to workers to get their shots.
“It’s just the right thing to do,” she said. “It’s a public health issue and it’s a human issue.”
While some workers may have sufficient personal time to get vaccinated on their own, others might need time off to do so, including people who work two jobs, have transportation challenges, or serve as a caregiver at home, vaccine advocates said.
Ellerin said companies should even consider giving workers time off to help their family members.
“Don’t penalize them if they’re taking a partner or somebody living with them for it,” she said. “Not only don’t penalize them – applaud them.”
Rebecca Reindel, safety and health director of the AFL-CIO, an organized labor group that represents more than 12 million workers, said employers should provide incentives and scheduling flexibility for workers to get their shots.
“It comes down to having flexible policies for people to have that time off if they need it or to have a moderated workload,” she said.
McDonald's, Olive Garden offer vaccine incentives
At McDonald’s, which had about 205,000 employees globally as of early 2020, U.S. workers will be given four hours of pay to get the vaccine. The policy does not cover the 93% of its restaurants that were run by franchisees as of a year ago.
“Vaccination is essential in the fight against the pandemic, and we are actively encouraging McDonald’s employees to take this important step,” McDonald’s USA Chief People Officer Tiffanie Boyd said in a statement in response to USA TODAY questions.
Others are making similar moves.
• Darden Restaurants, which owns Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse, will provide two hours of pay for each vaccine dose. (Two doses are required for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the only two so far that have received Food and Drug Administration approval for emergency use.)
Darden CEO Gene Lee said in a message to employees that the company made the move “to ensure that our team members who want the vaccine do not have to choose between earning income and getting vaccinated.”
• Several grocery chains are providing incentives to workers to get inoculated. Lidl is giving workers who get vaccinated $200 in extra pay, while Kroger is offering $100. Aldi and Trader Joe's are providing workers two hours of extra pay for each dose.
• Starbucks is offering two hours of paid time off for each dose. And discount retailer Dollar General is offering four hours of pay after workers receive their final dose of a vaccine.
“We do not want our employees to have to choose between receiving a vaccine or coming to work, so we are working to remove barriers,” Dollar General said in a statement.
COVID-19 vaccine offers practical benefits for bosses
Rousseau, the Carnegie Mellon professor, said employers send a “huge signal” to their workers that they care about them when they provide time off to ensure they can get vaccinated.
But it also has significant practical benefits for employers: limiting potential disruptions when workers get sick and reducing health care costs.
Also, “it makes the workplace in a position to go back to normal,” Rousseau said. “It’s in your interest as an employer and it will cause people to be more willing to work for you.”
Some businesses don’t see it that way.
Dollar General’s archrival, Dollar Tree, will not provide time off or extra pay to workers.
“We strongly encourage our associates to get vaccinated and will support them by providing flexibility in scheduling and ensuring they incur no costs for the administration of the vaccine,” Dollar Tree spokesperson Kayleigh Painter said in an email.
Other major employers also declined to commit to providing time off or extra pay to get inoculated.
Amazon, Walmart not providing incentives
Amazon, one of the nation’s largest employers, did not respond to a USA TODAY request to detail its plans. The company is not providing incentives to workers to get vaccinated but said in a blog post it has a deal with “a licensed third-party occupational health care provider to administer vaccines on-site at our Amazon facilities.”
Walmart is poised to vaccinate pharmacy customers and employees when the shots become available, but it will not provide incentives to workers to get one.
“We aren’t requiring the vaccine and because it is voluntary, associates will get the vaccine off the clock,” Walmart spokesperson Delia Garcia said in an email.
Target is also not providing incentives. It said CVS pharmacies inside of more than 1,700 Target stores will provide vaccines to employees when they become available in the coming months.
Several companies with major American factories signaled they may provide the vaccine directly to workers when that option becomes available.
Ford, for example, is “investigating the possibility of providing the COVID-19 vaccine when it is available to employees on a voluntary basis,” Ford spokesperson Cassandra Hayes said in an email. “We have several leave options available to employees to ensure they have time off to get the vaccine or to deal with potential side effects.”
General Motors often provides flu vaccines at its operations but it’s too early to say whether that will be possible with COVID-19 vaccines, GM spokesperson Pat Morrissey said.
“We are preparing for multiple options, and it’s possible (likely) it will vary by state,” he said in an email.
Hourly U.S. workers at Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles plants are represented by the United Auto Workers. UAW spokesperson Brian Rothenberg said the union is still waiting for more information on vaccine availability but is “working with the companies on vaccine distribution plans.”
At Toyota, whose workers are not unionized, discussions about possible vaccine incentives are an “active discussion, but we have not yet decided,” spokesperson Scott Vazin said in an email.
Yogurt maker Chobani said it will provide six hours of time for its employees to get vaccinated, including its manufacturing workers.
Will proof be required?
In some cases, employers that are offering vaccination incentives are requiring proof of inoculation to get their extra pay or certify their paid time off. That’s appropriate, Rousseau said.
“I think that’s a fair thing and maybe fair for their colleagues to see that you actually followed a protocol,” she said.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.