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Will offering employees vaccination incentives work?

Jasmine Garsd Feb 17, 2021
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Could incentives make employees more or less suspicious of COVID-19 vaccinations? Chet Strange/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Will offering employees vaccination incentives work?

Jasmine Garsd Feb 17, 2021
Heard on:
Could incentives make employees more or less suspicious of COVID-19 vaccinations? Chet Strange/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
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As states continue to expand their criteria about who’s eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine, some workplaces are offering incentives to their employees to get immunized. 

These incentives range from stipends and extra pay to gift cards and even time off.

But there’s plenty of debate among behavioral economists about whether incentives work. 

Incentives are a first step for many businesses to encourage employees to get the vaccine, even though there is precedent for them to require it.

Mark Goldstein, an employment lawyer with Reed Smith, said it’s a difficult balancing act.

“All the clients that I advise on this are trying to be sensitive to people’s views on this issue, but also trying to make sure that everyone has the safest work environment possible,” Goldstein said.

The city of Phoenix is paying its employees $75. Grocery store chain Aldi is offering up to four hours of pay

“Amtrak is allowing excused absences for employees receiving vaccination during their regularly scheduled work hours, when they submit the documentation of receiving the vaccine,” said Kimberly Woods, a spokesperson for Amtrak.

It’s also offering up to two hours’ worth of bonus pay.

But Goldstein said rewarding vaccinations remains legally murky. And there’s the question of whether incentives even work. 

Cynthia Cryder, an economist at Washington University in St. Louis, said incentives are not going to change how much people trust the vaccine. 

“In fact, the evidence that we have suggests that when there’s higher compensation, people assume there’s greater risk involved,” she said.

Cryder’s research has also found offering rewards can raise suspicions among people who previously had no opinion.  

There’s another cost, said Denise Rousseau, an organizational psychologist from Carnegie Mellon. Incentives can strip the ethical component from getting vaccinated.

“If you have to reward me for this, you want me to do this for reasons that aren’t about morality and aren’t about social good. You want to get more work out of me,” Rousseau said.

As vaccines become more available, incentives may lose appeal. And the American workforce may be split between those who get vaccinated and those who refuse.  

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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