Latest on Employer Actions Related to COVID-19 Vaccine Incentives

April 5, 2021

As published by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, March 30, 2021

Most employers are encouraging, rather than mandating, employees to get a COVID-19 vaccination. Organizations are taking a variety of actions to encourage vaccination. According to the Littler COVID-19 Vaccine Employer Survey Report, 11% of employers plan to provide cash awards to employees who receive the vaccine, through a company wellness program or otherwise. Thirty-three percent of employers are planning to offer paid time off to employees who get a COVID-19 vaccine once available. Regardless of what they choose, employers want clarity on the rules surrounding vaccination incentives. Last month, over forty business groups and associations sent a letter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) seeking guidance on what is and is not allowed when offering incentives to employees who receive the COVID-19 vaccination. The groups wanted EEOC guidance in two areas:

  1. A definition of what qualifies as a permissible incentive. Employers want the definition to be as broad as possible to ensure the process is efficient and effective.
  2. An explanation that allows COVID-19 vaccine incentives to be distinguished from wellness programs. The groups thought by removing vaccine incentives from wellness program standards, employers would be more likely to participate in this type of plan.

At this time, there has been no guidance issued by the EEOC or any other governmental agency on vaccine incentives. As employers have been left to navigate this on their own, some are choosing to follow wellness program rules, which have become less clear too. The latest proposed rules by the EEOC related to wellness programs under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) included guidance on the level of wellness incentives that could be offered. The proposed rules targeted participation-only wellness programs, limiting incentives offered in connection with such programs to a “de minimis” standard. Examples of de minimis incentives generally include items such as a water bottle or a gift card of modest value. However, in light of the Biden administration’s memorandum freezing new and pending regulations, the EEOC withdrew the proposed wellness rules until the new administration has time to review and approve them. For now, we must wait to see whether the EEOC will issue new rules.

Here are some examples of what some employers are offering as COVID-19 vaccine incentives:

Cash Incentive or Gift Card

  • Bridgestone: $100 support payment (i.e., missing work, childcare, transportation costs) to make it easier for employees to get vaccinated without requiring vaccination
  • Publix: $125 gift card to the store if they get a COVID-19 vaccine
  • Kroger: $100 payment for getting full manufacturer-recommended doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. Workers unable to get vaccinated for health or religious reasons can get the payment if they take an educational health and safety course.
  • Lidl supermarket chain: $200 to all U.S. employees who get vaccinated
  • Instacart: $25 stipend to get vaccinated
  • AutoZone: $100 for completing vaccinations

Paid Time Off (PTO) to Get Vaccinated

  • New York state-wide mandate for public and private employers: Four hours per vaccine injection unless a longer timeframe has been agreed to pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement
  • Wells Fargo: Up to eight hours PTO
  • Target: Up to four hours of pay (two hours for each vaccine dose) to hourly employees to get vaccines
  • Chobani: Up to six hours of time for employees to get vaccinated—three hours for each of the two COVID-19 vaccine doses
  • Bank of America: Option to use two half days, for up to four hours each, for vaccination appointments
  • JPMorgan Chase: Up to eight hours of time off to accommodate a COVID-19 vaccine appointment
  • Citigroup: Whatever paid time away from work is reasonably necessary to travel to and get the vaccine
  • Tyson Foods: Up to four hours of regular pay for employees who wish to be vaccinated off site
  • Starbucks: Up to two hours of paid time off to receive each dose of the vaccine, up to two doses
  • Krispy Kreme: Up to four hours of paid time off to get vaccinated

Payment Incentive for Getting Vaccinated

  • Aldi: Two hours of pay for hourly workers for each dose they receive, totaling up to four hours. Aldi will work with salaried employees who want to receive the vaccine and will cover any costs associated with the administration of the shot.
  • Trader Joe’s: Two hours of pay per dose for getting the vaccine
  • McDonald’s: Four hours of paid time to corporate employees and workers at its corporate-owned restaurants
  • Dollar General: Four hours’ regular pay to front-line, hourly employees
  • Marriott International: Equivalent of four hours pay upon completion of the vaccination
  • Darden Restaurants (Olive Garden, Long Horn Steakhouse, Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, and more): Two hours of pay for each dose of the vaccine—up to four hours of total pay for complete vaccination
  • Amtrak: Two hours of pay for each vaccine with proof of vaccine record

Other Incentives for Vaccination

  • Best Buy: Four hours PTO for part-time employees, eight hours for full-time employees as a “thank you” for getting vaccinated. The PTO is to use how employees want after vaccination. If employees experience side effects after vaccination, they will receive additional sick time: four hours for part-time employees and eight hours for full-time employees.
  • Target: In addition to the PTO incentive above, Target is providing all U.S. employees with free Lyft rides (up to $15 each way) to get to and from their appointments if they need it.
  • Amtrak: In addition to the payment incentive above, Amtrak employees who miss work due to vaccine side effects will have their absence excused and pay protected for up to 48 hours after vaccination. Pay will also be protected for employees who are unable to work more than 48 hours after vaccination with medical documentation.

Next Steps for Employers and COVID-19 Vaccine Incentives

Use caution before offering significant financial incentives to encourage worker vaccination due to the lack of clarity in regulatory and agency guidance on what is permissible. Consult with your legal counsel before implementation if considering offering vaccination incentives as part of a wellness program.


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