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Delta Air Lines’ $200 charge to unvaccinated employees puts penalty power to the test

Caroline Champlin Aug 26, 2021
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A Delta Air Lines employee waits for passengers at an empty check-in counter at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Delta Air Lines’ $200 charge to unvaccinated employees puts penalty power to the test

Caroline Champlin Aug 26, 2021
Heard on:
A Delta Air Lines employee waits for passengers at an empty check-in counter at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images
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Delta Air Lines said the average hospital stay for an employee sick with COVID-19 costs the company $50,000. Recovering that cost is part of the reason why the company plans to start charging unvaccinated employees $200 per month if they’re on the company’s insurance. 

Hitting employees in their paycheck to get them vaccinated?

Kevin Volpp with the Penn Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics said it might work.

“We know from a lot of work in behavioral economics that a dollar lost is probably roughly twice that of a dollar gained. So a $200 penalty will have a little bit more of an impact than a $200 reward,” he said.

The $200 charge could be popular inside the company, said UC Berkeley business professor Jennifer Chatman. According to Delta Air Lines, 75% of its employees are vaccinated.

“I think that slightly mitigates the chances of a huge negative reaction,” she said.

But why $200? Why not a $100? Or $500?

“It’s hard to come up with the theoretically perfect number in this kind of rapidly changing environment,” said Kate Bundorf, a Duke University health policy professor.

Delta Air Lines did not respond to an interview request by our deadline.

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