Getting employer skin in the vaccine game

The Wall Street Journal reported that Dollar General is trying to use the carrot, rather than the stick, to entice their employees to get vaccinations. They will pay employees for four extra hours if they opt to get the shot in the hopes that this will entice their 157,000 employees to roll up their sleeves. This is the kind of innovative approach that will speed adoption of the vaccine in more reluctant populations, reaffirm solidarity across socioeconomic lines, and move us more quickly toward a broad-based economic restart.

A Dollar General store is open for business, Dec. 3, 2020 on Lea Street in Carlsbad. Via REUTERS

As I pointed out yesterday, lower-wage, disproportionately minority workers have already been slow to accept vaccines out of fear they are being used as “guinea pigs”. Employers, by putting a modest incentive on the table, are signaling that their workers have real, tangible value rather than being dispensable cogs in a machine that would grind on without them. To a vaccine-hesitant employee, this move helps take the edge off anxiety. After all, why would a business owner pay to make his workers sick or engage in a high-risk health decision?

By immunizing its
workforce, business wins by reducing the potential for illness and sick leave
claims from their workforce, strengthens their own operations, and contributes
to the overall dampening of transmission within the community ― a problem
especially acute for public-facing service sector workers. Being able to
advertise employee immunization should also improve public confidence in visiting
stores.

Dollar Store’s policy is important for another reason. Like so much of the rest of American life, COVID-19 has become a flashpoint of social division. Despite hearing earlier how we were all in this together, it quickly became apparent that this wasn’t the case. Minorities and lower-income workers suffered far more than their white-collar counterparts. When it came time to actually put money where our words were, we instead offered applause and other nice — but not especially useful — items.

This policy helps start to change that by putting a stake in the ground for cohesion. We are in this pandemic together, and we all have skin in the game of fixing it.

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