Will Biden’s support push more employers to offer PTO for shots?

What experts expect from the president’s call to provide workers paid time off for COVID-19 vaccinations.
By: | April 26, 2021 • 4 min read

President Biden’s call on employers to give their workers paid time off for getting vaccinated against COVID-19 may boost already-rising rates of employer vaccine incentives, industry experts say.

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Biden last week urged organizations to “give employees the time off they need—with pay—to get vaccinated and any time they need—with pay—to recover if they’re feeling under the weather after the shot,” while also announcing a tax credit to help smaller companies do so. For businesses and nonprofits with fewer than 500 employees, the tax credit will cover paid leave for up to $511 per day for up to 10 workdays, or 80 work hours, taken between April 1 and Sept. 30. “Every employee should get paid leave to get a shot, and businesses should know that they can provide it without a hit to their bottom line,” Biden said. “There’s no excuse for not getting it done.”

Industry insiders predict Biden’s push will likely spur more employers to offer workers paid time off for inoculations, which in turn could help boost vaccination numbers. The announcement also comes at a pivotal time as all 50 states have recently made U.S. adults over the age of 16 eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

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“Having the president of the United States point to the need to give people paid time off to get vaccines means a lot of employers who maybe that wasn’t top of mind for them, it’s going to be much closer to top of mind for them now,” says Dr. Jeff Levin-Scherz, population health leader for Willis Towers Watson. “I think there’s a lot more conversation, a lot more interest in this now, which is great. There should be more interest in this.

“It was good for Biden to shine a light on [paid time off for vaccination], and I think it will make a difference,” he says. The tax credit available for smaller employers to cover some or all of the costs of giving people time off will only help drive that offering as well, Levin-Scherz says. “Just as we’re trying to get the employers to make it really easy for people to get vaccinated, this is a way to make it really easy for the employer to do that.”

Related: For more about employers’ COVID-19 vaccine strategies, don’t miss HRE’s upcoming virtual health and benefits conference May 11-13. Register here.

Carol Morrison, senior research analyst at the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), agrees that Biden’s call on employers to encourage vaccination and make it easy for them to get their shots is an important step, saying it “should further strengthen business leaders’ determination to support vaccinations for their workforces.” She notes that vaccination incentives, including paid time off, already were increasing before Biden’s comments.

March data from i4cp found that a third of the organizations it surveyed were already providing their employees with paid time off to get vaccinated, whether for one-dose or two-dose vaccines. At that time, another 10% planned to do so, and a further 19% were considering it. “Those figures tell us that we can expect the number of companies offering paid time off to increase,” she says.

Recent research from Willis Towers Watson found similar results: 39% are providing extra leave or vacation time to get vaccinated, and 46% are planning or considering doing so. Just over one in four (27%) are providing additional leave to employees who have negative reactions or get sick from the vaccine. Another 48% are considering doing so.

Several employers have announced their vaccination plans in recent months. Companies including Aldi, Dollar General, Darden Restaurants and Trader Joe’s are offering four hours of pay total for getting the two doses. Target is providing hourly employees up to four hours of pay—two hours for each vaccine dose—as well as free Lyft rides (up to $15 each way) to get to and from their appointments. Aon is offering all of its some 50,000 employees two days of paid time off for each injection.

“We’ve already seen many large companies taking the lead on vaccination incentives. They’ve made their positions and support clear, so there’s no reason to think that won’t continue,” Morrison says. “Further, our broader research in workforce wellbeing has found that large employers are more likely to invest in efforts to drive greater levels of health and wellbeing in the communities in which they operate and in which their employees reside. That dedication to contributing to the greater good should reinforce large employers’ willingness to offer paid time off and/or other incentives to encourage vaccinations.”

Employer encouragement—and incentives—is seen as vital to helping drive vaccination numbers. Research has found that employees hesitant to get vaccinated are more likely to do so if their employer encouraged them or gave them a financial incentive. Giving employees paid time off for vaccination can be especially effective for hourly workers, says Levin-Scherz.

“You’ve got to make it easy for people who are doing hourly work,” he says. “They shouldn’t take home less money in their paycheck because they got vaccinated. It’s valuable to people, to their families, to their communities and their employer to get vaccinated, but there’s no reason for people to suffer a penalty to get vaccinated.”

Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver. She can be reached at kmayer@lrp.com.