As the vaccine rollout picks up steam in the Philadelphia area and more residents become eligible for the shots, employers are beginning to set their sights on what their workplaces may look like post-pandemic.
Some companies in the tech and innovation sectors have had employees in-house the entire pandemic, such as STEM labs or healthcare settings. But many others have been working remotely now for an entire year. The availability of vaccines can soon start to change mandatory WFH to optional in-office or hybrid setups.
While many companies in the region will encourage their employees to get vaccinated when it’s their turn, some are offering financial incentives to do so. In late January, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that JBS, which runs a Montgomery County meatpacking plant that has lost workers to COVID-19, and Di Bruno Bros. were paying employees $100 and $25, respectively, to get vaccinated. Amtrak — which calls Philadelphia’s 30th Street its third-busiest station — is also compensating employees two hours’ worth of pay when they show proof of vaccination, AARP reported last month.
So where does that leave regional employers who might want to entice workers to head back to the office some time in 2021? While it’s legal to do so, should you incentivize or require a person to be vaccinated to continue their employment?
It’s a tricky position, HR&B Consulting’s Talia Edmundson said last month during Technical.ly’s BuildingUp webinar. You have to be mindful of the tax issues with bonuses and be conscious of what it would entail to ask people if they’re getting vaccinated. (This SHRM article outlines those potential issues.)
“You could be met with people who feel like you’re forcing them,” she said.
Tamara Rasberry, head of Rasberry Consulting and HR manager for a national nonprofit based in D.C., agreed. She said she’s also worried about the equity issues that would come into play with paying employees to get vaccinated.
There will be employees that don’t want to or can’t for a specific health reason, and paying some employees would create an imbalance. There are some jobs that may require it, like some professions in the healthcare space, but for a job that could be remote, Rasberry said she feels like it could be pushing people.
“I’m not a fan of requiring or asking people to put a foreign substance in their body,” she said. “How do you know how it will affect that person?”
“Our official stance is that the COVID vaccine is a good thing for those who can get it and who choose to get it,” Wronko said of the company’s plan in late January. “But given our heavy reliance on clinical research for our own products, we feel any financial incentive towards getting a treatment or vaccine, particularly one with an EUA, causes inequity in consent.”
Folks who are in lower income brackets or in difficult financial positions might feel a need to get the vaccine to pay bills, she added. Instead, Group K was planning on removing barriers for those who want a vaccine, like giving time off to those who get the shot or guiding employees through appointment registration if they need help.
This week, Wronko said the company was able to schedule appointments for the employees who wanted the vaccine and arranged transportation when it was needed. They also gave them PTO for the appointment.
“So far, many of our employees have their first dose,” she wrote an in email Wednesday.
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