In the US, there are no laws at the federal or state level that could mandate Covid-19 vaccines. But that isn’t stopping private companies—especially those on the frontlines, like grocery stores and pharmacies—from providing incentives to their employees to get get inoculated.
On Jan. 13, Dollar General became one of the largest companies to provide such a carrot. Once essential workers at its stores are able to access the shots, the discount chain will pay them to get vaccinated—to the tune of four hours’ pay.
After healthcare workers, residents in longterm care facilities, and people over 65, the next in line will likely be essential frontline workers, per the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidance to states. That would include people like Dollar General’s cashiers doing customer-facing work.
“We do not want our employees to have to choose between receiving a vaccine or coming to work, so we are working to remove barriers (e.g., travel time, mileage, child care needs, etc.) by providing frontline hourly team members with a one-time payment equivalent of four (4) hours of regular pay after receiving a completed Covid-19 vaccination,” the company said in a statement. Employees on a salary will receive a similar compensation for their time away from work.
So far, it seems like incentives—and not mandates—are the way that most workplaces are going about ensuring a sufficient number of in-person staff are vaccinated. The Wall Street Journal reports that other companies, including Verizon and CVS Health, have also encouraged employees to get their jabs when they can. As Quartz has previously reported, there are several ways to support employees in getting vaccinated, from setting up on-site clinics to sharing photos of company executives receiving their shots.
Companies may choose to provide incentives to their employees because it’s a good look, but it also makes economic sense. Dollar General has stated that these incentives won’t have an impact on the company’s overall finances. They could even pay for themselves.
“The [vaccine] prioritization costs them nothing but comes with the great benefit of having inoculated staff who may feel more comfortable working and give shoppers comfort,” said Molly Kinder, a fellow at the Brookings Institution’s metropolitan policy program, told the Wall Street Journal. “It minimizes the interruption of people falling ill and needing time off or medical attention.”
Just because the math works out for individual companies, though, doesn’t mean the strategy of paying people to get vaccinated would work across the board. For one thing, there’s never been any kind of study done to show how much money works to convince people to get a jab, and it could easily contribute to distrust among vaccine hesitant individuals who believe there’s some sort of conspiracy behind vaccines at play.
More worryingly, it could set up a system that takes advantage of poorer people; by offering an amount of money that wealthier individuals can afford to refuse, poorer individuals may feel pressure to comply and get the vaccine, rather than getting it of their own free will. Carrots may work for some employers, but they’re not a viable strategy to get the whole population vaccinated.