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Workplaces Offer Covid-19 Vaccine Incentives Despite Legal Concerns

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on May 11, 2021

Human behavior can be one of the most difficult things to change. Ideas are powerful concepts, and once they take hold, they create deeply entrenched values systems that resolutely align with the core identities of their owners. Take Covid-19 vaccines, for instance; no matter what stance you take towards them, many people hold steadfast to the notions they have already formed. In fact, a recent study evaluated that up to 86% of adults were unlikely to change their behaviors towards vaccinations. That’s why many businesses and institutions who want to encourage Covid-19 vaccines for their employees are turning to the time-proven tenets of loyalty and rewards incentives.

For those that believe that immunization is the correct path towards a sense of creating a normal workplace, offering incentives, perks and benefits to those who participate might be a winning strategy. Loyalty and rewards have the power to shape reactions to brands and influence complex behaviors in the shopping aisle — the question is, can these tactics extend to highly personal decisions such as health management amidst a pandemic?

The Perspective

What do companies like Dollar General, Trader Joe’s, and Instacart have in common? They all have plans to offer incentives to workers who prove they've received a Covid-19 vaccine. Dr. Bob Bollinger, a professor of infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins University, believes that this idea has far reaching importance to the economy:

“Companies have an important opportunity to contribute to this effort. Incentives could certainly be considered as one component of a company’s broad and comprehensive strategy to encourage and support vaccination of their employees.”

What kinds of rewards strategies work well? Just as in other facets of loyalty, companies have found success with personalized, tiered formats that closely relate to the behavior modification desired. For example, John Ross, the CEO of Test Prep Insight, an online education company, offers multiple incentives to his employees, including time off to everyone — just in case a few individuals feel under weather following the dosing protocol:

“I’m giving employees the day off after they get their second dose of the vaccine, plus the two following days off paid, regardless of whether they actually have a reaction.”

Following their inoculations, Ross said he will give each of them a $100 Starbucks, Amazon or REI gift card. And finally, a personalized incentive to facilitate company-wide bonding:

“I will take them all out to dinner at a nice steakhouse, where I [will] pick up the tab. They can order whatever they want—[appetizers], wine, surf and turf—I don't care. I am hoping this last incentive creates some peer pressure amongst employees, as I really want them all to get the vaccine.”

On The Flip Side

Vaccines themselves are a hot topic — and, as with any sensitive subject, some business executives are not eager to offer vaccine incentives.

Bryan Towey is the founder and CEO of The Bryan Towey Organization with over 100 employees worldwide, and he claims:

“My organization will not be offering incentives to employees who choose to take the vaccine. The decision to take a vaccine is personal and should not involve outside influences. While many companies may be antsy to get back to normal as soon as possible, getting involved with the medical decisions of employees is a slippery slope.”

Three Big Considerations Before Offering Covid-19 Vaccine Incentives for Employees

Before either ruling out or adopting Covid vaccination strategies for their employees, businesses should take a hard look at the three key considerations that may affect their decision making process:

  • Impact To Bottom Line

Being ill with COVID-19 might mean a labour force not able to perform to their highest abilities for remote workers, or absenteeism from the physical business environment entirely due to sick days being taken. Encouraging vaccine participation is a powerful way of ensuring virus stays out of workplaces and keeping employees vigorous and healthy. On the other hand, the cost of incentives themselves can add up quickly, especially if applied with a broad paintbrush rather than through a targeted strategy.

  • Employee Backlash

As with any sensitive regulation, introducing workplace mandates for policies not everyone agrees with can have a negative effect on worker morale. Even John Ross admist that a vaccine incentive plan...

“…may upset certain segments of workers. With the politicization of the vaccine, mask policies and the regulatory environment that has evolved around Covid-19, offering incentives for getting the vaccine may be seen as a political move by some employees.”

  • Avoiding Discrimination & Legal Challenges

Even with the best intentions, employers have to be mindful of treating their employees fairly and equitably. While they may want to encourage vaccinations, they must also be cognizant that certain populations may need to abstain due to various personal or health reasons. Jonathan B. Orleans, chair of the employment and labor practice at the law firm Pullman & Comley notes:

“An employee who can’t be vaccinated due to a disability should probably be offered some alternative way to earn the reward… Without such an alternative, the employer could be accused of disability discrimination. Similarly, an employee who refuses to be vaccinated based on a sincerely held religious belief should probably also be offered an alternative way to earn the reward, lest the employer be accused of religious discrimination.”

Other legal risk factors include:

  • Creating infrastructure to gather and manage sensitive personal information
  • Developing an acceptable “proof of vaccination” to authenticate the program
  • Creating alternative options for those unable to be vaccinated
  • Offering additional time off due to any vaccine side effects
  • Developing the incentives and rewards themselves, which should be unique to environment, culture, and financial resources of each individual business

Rewards are a powerful tool, especially when it incentivizes choices that involve health and wellness. And not dissimilar to designing a loyalty strategy for an everyday business, the incentivizing behavior driven and rewards offered must be taken with care and consideration to drive the appropriate and desired behavior from all the participating members.