Tackling Vaccine Hesitancy in the Workplace

A common question we get asked these days is ‘Can I require my employees to be vaccinated?’ and according to legal experts the answer to this question is ‘probably not’, but the law remains unclear, and governments have yet to legislate this requirement. Instead, they are looking to employers to become a key part of their vaccination strategy.

So, what are employers to do when the stick is not available to them? Use a carrot!

Companies across both sides of the border are coming up with innovative new ways to provide incentives to their employees to get vaccinated and rely on establish behavioural science which states that workers respond better to a carrot than a stick.

Some governments are also attempting to help by creating special paid leaves to ensure that those who choose to receive the vaccine will not incur a financial loss. For example, in B.C. the government recently updated Employment Standards to include a 3-hour paid leave for employees who elect to receive a vaccine. In the United States, the state of Ohio has introduced a vaccine lottery where Ohioans can win one of 5 one-million-dollar prizes that will be awarded by draw to individuals who receive the vaccine.

The primary incentive in use by employers is money. More and more organizations across the country are offering cash bonuses to employees and contractors to get vaccinated. For example, EACOM Timber Corporation is offering staff and contractors $200 to receive the first shot, and $150 for the second shot.

Generally, companies offer anywhere from $25 to $500 incentives for employees to get vaccinated. Employers who plan to use cash incentives need to remember that there could be legal and/or financial implications to this scheme. For example, offering a large sum could be seen as coercive and unreasonable. It could also trigger a tax debt and related deductions as any cash incentive could be considered ‘regular wages.’

The other form of rewards that companies are providing is in additional time-off or added vacation day(s) to those who elect to vaccinate. For many individuals it is this quality time off that they seek rather than a cash bonus.

While these incentive programs are creative, organizations should also consider any possible inequity in their ‘reward-for-vaccine’ program. There are many individuals who cannot receive a vaccine due to a specific medical condition or who elect not receive one due to a sincerely held religious belief. Organizations need to determine how to accommodate these individuals and ensure they too are provided with similar rewards to those who elect to be vaccinated. To complicate matters, this needs to be achieved while maintaining strict confidentiality of an individual’s medical condition or religious beliefs.

If this sounds complicated it’s because it is, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Each organization needs to consider their own unique circumstances and do what is right for the organization and the individuals it employs.

You Engaged Assignment: Having an incentive program for employees to be vaccinated makes up only a part of the strategy that employers should consider. Stay curious, find out is causing their reluctance, and tackle it with an open mind and clear, fact-based communication.

As always, we are here for you and ready to help you design a vaccination strategy that would work in your organization.

* This blog does not provide legal advise. For legal advise regarding your unique situation we recommend working with an employment lawyer.