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HR

EEOC authorizes employer vaccine incentives

Posted by Kanika Sinha

June 19, 2021    |     3-minute read (600 words)

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has revised its COVID-19 guidance for vaccinations in the workplace. In its May 31 update, the agency said federal laws don’t prohibit employers from requiring workers to be vaccinated or from offering incentives including cash for employees to voluntarily take the vaccine. However, the EEOC added that perks offered as part of an employer’s in-house vaccine program must not be substantial enough so that they can be deemed coercive. What does the new COVID-19 guidance say?

Building on its previous vaccine advisory and the CDC's early May 2021 vaccine FAQs, the recent EEOC bulletin adds the following key recommendations.

Mandatory vaccinations: An employer may require all of its employees — existing and new hires physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19. However, companies must also ensure that the requirement does not have a disparate impact on employees and also be mindful of individuals or demographic groups who may face greater barriers to receiving a vaccination.

Reasonable accommodations: Employers establishing COVID-19 vaccination mandates for their workforce need to provide reasonable accommodations to certain employees protected under federal law, such as those seeking an exemption from the mandatory vaccination program on account of a disability or religious beliefs, unless doing so poses an undue hardship on their business.

Reasonable accommodations may include requiring unvaccinated employees who enter the office to continue wearing face masks along with following social distancing protocols and periodic testing for COVID-19. It may also entail providing accommodations to vaccinated individuals who are immunocompromised or face a higher risk of illness from COVID-19 infection due to an underlying disability.

Incentives: Companies that administer vaccination programs may offer incentives to employees getting the COVID-19 vaccine, including cash or paid time off, as long as these incentives are not coercive. Workers must not be pressured into disclosing protected medical information while responding to disability-related pre-screening questions during an employer vaccination program.

However, the incentive limitation does not apply to employers who offer incentives for voluntarily providing proof of vaccination from a third-party provider, such as a pharmacy or community clinic.

Confidentiality: Medical information of the employees must be kept confidential by the employer and stored separately from the employee’s personnel files pursuant to federal law.

What are major companies incentivizing the COVID-19 vaccine?

Many large U.S. companies have already moved to reward employees for receiving the COVID-19 vaccine by offering paid time off, discount coupons, on-site clinics, cash stipends and other types of incentives. Online giant Amazon is offering on-site vaccination services, and employees who show proof of vaccination receive an $80 bonus. New hires receive $100 if they provide proof of vaccination.

St. Petersburg, Fla.-based manufacturing services company Jabil is providing on-site COVID-19 vaccines, while AT&T has set up 21 vaccination clinics for employees and families. Target is giving up to four hours of paid time for hourly employees who get the COVID-19 vaccine, which includes two hours for each dose, along with transportation costs of up to $15 each way to/from the vaccination center. McDonalds and Starbucks are also offering up to four hours of paid time off to employees who get the COVID-19 vaccine. Bolthouse Farms employees receive a cash bonus of $500 for vaccination, while associates at supermarket chains Kroger and Albertsons receive a one-time payment of $100 for providing proof of vaccination. Salesforce has come up with a different kind of incentive. The cloud-based software maker is allowing vaccinated employees to voluntarily join groups of 100 or fewer people to work at its San Francisco headquarters and other California offices.

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