The COVID-19 vaccine has allowed for regular activities to start up again, and many employers are encouraging employees to get the vaccine, although they cannot demand it. Instead, several companies have announced incentive programs like PTO and gift cards for employees that decide to get vaccinated.
Chelsea Smith, a labor and employment attorney at law firm Hall Estill, agrees that incentives are a smart way for employers to encourage vaccination, as long as the employers go about it the right way. "I think encouraging employees to get the vaccine and offering incentives is the best practice rather than a mandate," she says. "If an employer wants to make a vaccine mandatory, it must be job-related and consistent with business necessity or justified by a direct threat and no broader than necessary. It is much easier to just encourage employees to get the vaccine than mandating it."
Smith also notes that the best way to do this is with paid time off (PTO), although they still need to consider how this will affect everyone. "I prefer PTO over incentives. If an employer gives an incentive, they should know that if they have employees who won’t get the vaccine because of a sincerely held religious belief or a disability, then those employees should still be given an opportunity to earn the same incentive," she adds.
In addition, incentives could save employers money in terms of potential litigation. Explains Smith: "If an employer meets the standard to mandate a vaccine, they must still allow exemptions for disability and sincerely held religious beliefs and if they don’t, they could be liable under the ADA or Title VII. Also, employers should be careful about asking why employees didn’t receive a vaccine—that question could be subject to the ADA and it must be job-related and consistent with business necessity. Additionally, there could also be issues if an employer mandates a vaccine and the employee has an adverse reaction."
For an example of how to go about doing this, look no further than Marriott International's Vaccination Care Program, which will provide a financial award to U.S. and Canadian associates at its managed properties who get vaccinated for COVID-19. Employees will receive the equivalent of four hours of pay upon completion of the vaccination. To encourage workers to get vaccinated, Marriott is also providing education on the benefits of vaccination and directing leaders to allow for schedule flexibility for appointments. Although the company is strongly encouraging associates get vaccinated, vaccination is not mandated.
"The health and safety of our people is our top priority. Our goal for the Vaccination Care Program is to remove potential obstacles to getting vaccinated so our associates can put their health first and have peace of mind," said Dr. David Rodriguez, Global Chief Human Resources Officer of Marriott International. "Marriott International is confident that vaccination is a key measure, along with mask wearing, social distancing and stepped-up cleanliness protocols and hygiene practices in minimizing the spread of COVID-19. As vaccines become more widely available, this will create a safer environment for all associates, and we believe that consumer confidence to travel again will increase significantly and help the rebound of the travel and tourism sector. We appreciate the support from our managed hotel owners, and encourage the industry and our franchisees to offer flexibility and incentives to their associates as a vital step in our industry's recovery."