This retailer will pay workers to get a COVID-19 vaccine

Dollar General is offering its workers an incentive for getting the COVID-19 vaccine: an extra four hours of pay.

The retailer’s offer is applicable only to hourly frontline workers right now, but it plans to extend it to its distribution and transportation teams, Dollar General announced Wednesday. Getting vaccinated is not required but the company hopes to motivate workers to do it with the offer.

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It’s one of the first announcements from a major employer about how they are encouraging employees to get vaccinated in the midst of the raging pandemic.

“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 (e.g., travel time, mileage, child care needs, etc.) by providing frontline hourly team members with a one-time payment equivalent of four hours of regular pay after receiving a completed COVID-19 vaccination and salaried team members with additional store labor hours to accommodate their time away from the store,” Dollar General said in an announcement Wednesday.

The announcement from the employer, which has about 157,000 workers, comes as organizations are discussing and deciding if they’ll require their workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available. A survey of 211 business and talent leaders out this week from human capital research firm i4cp finds that most organizations (41%) say they are still deciding whether they will mandate COVID-19 vaccination for their employees. Just 5% say they will require employees to get the vaccine, while 39% say they won’t. Another 11% say they don’t know yet.

Related: Employers can legally require COVID vaccines–but will they?

Although several employers are expected to require workers to get the COVID vaccine–as it can provide organizations a way to safely bring back employees to the office, get back to business and entice customers–some legal experts say organizations will likely tread carefully when it comes to mandating vaccination given the polarization surrounding the vaccine. A recent Gallup survey finds that about one-third of Americans do not plan to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Mike Thompson

Overall, though, experts say the majority of employers will encourage workers to get vaccinated against coronavirus, as Dollar General is doing. Michael Thompson, president and CEO of the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions, a nonprofit, purchaser-led organization that represents some 12,000 employers, said recently that the distribution of COVID vaccines will be critical to getting back to business as usual. “Employers have a strong stake in ensuring the success of these public health efforts and can be a real ally in making it happen effectively,” he said.

Related: HR’s next big job: Convincing employees to get COVID vaccines

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“If employees can’t work remotely, they need to do everything possible to get them back and get customers back in the door,” Shannon Farmer, a labor and employment lawyer at Philadelphia-based Ballard Spahr who is advising employers on the COVID vaccine, told HRE. “If you’re in hospitality or the entertainment industry, if this is the way to get your business open again when you’ve had to be closed, you’re going to do everything you can to get it open.” There may also be an appeal for patrons if a company says it mandated vaccines for all of its workers, she adds.

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Kathryn Mayer
Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s former 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.