Why many employers are turning to incentives to boost vaccination rates

More employers are turning to incentives to encourage workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19, as industry experts say enticements can be a powerful tool to boost inoculation numbers.

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Employees at McDonald’s corporate and corporate-owned stores in the United States will be given four hours of paid time to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, the fast food giant says.

“Vaccination is essential in the fight against the pandemic, and we are actively encouraging McDonald’s employees to take this important step,” Tiffanie Boyd, U.S. chief people officer with McDonald’s USA, said in a statement. “Ensuring widespread availability and access to the vaccine will require extraordinary partnerships between businesses, governments and community and health organizations, and we’re engaging with government officials and our partners to understand where McDonald’s can further support this work.”

The incentive isn’t available for those employed by McDonald’s franchisees.

Petco just announced it will provide a one-time $75 payment to each employee who gets a COVID-19 vaccination as it becomes available. The retailer also will contribute $25 to the Petco Partner Assistance Fund, which helps employees experiencing financial hardship. “We strongly encourage all of our over 26,000 partners to get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible,” Ron Coughlin, Petco chairman and chief executive, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Darden Restaurants, parent company of chains including Olive Garden and Yard House, will provide hourly restaurant workers up to four hours of paid time off–two hours of pay per dose.

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Related: Mayer: Don’t have a COVID-19 vaccine strategy? It’s time to make one

The companies join a growing number of employers turning to incentives to encourage their workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Target last week announced it is providing up to four hours of pay–two hours for each vaccine dose–to hourly employees when they get their vaccine. It also will provide all workers with free Lyft rides, up to $15 each way, to get to and from their appointments if they need it. Kroger, which has nearly 500,000 workers, said it will offer employees who get the vaccine a one-time payment of $100. Aldi, Dollar General and Trader Joe’s are all offering four hours of pay total for getting the two doses.

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Many organizations are expected to provide education to convince hesitant employees to get vaccinated, but incentives are a growing trend–and for good reason. Recent data indicates that financial incentives may be a smart strategy for employers to encourage vaccination. A survey from Blackhawk Network, a payments provider, finds that although some 40% of workers are either unsure about getting the vaccine or do not plan to get it, certain incentives could boost vaccination rates. For as little as $100, one-third of employees would agree to get vaccinated against COVID-19, the survey of 1,105 employees finds.

Read all of HRE’s COVID-19 vaccine coverage here.

“Anything employers can do to encourage their staff to get the vaccine, or at least consider the vaccine and do more research into it before saying ‘no’ right away, will be incredibly beneficial not only for the company’s bottom line but more importantly for saving countless lives,” says employment expert Rob Wilson, president of employment firm Employco USA.

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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.