Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Coronavirus Update 6-1-2021: EEOC says that employers legally can offer incentives to employees to get vaccinated in almost all instances

Employers have been anxiously waiting for the EEOC to publish its guidance for employers on incentives offered to employees in exchange for receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Late last week, the EEOC finally released that guidance. The issue is whether the incentive renders the vaccine coerced and therefore non-voluntary, which would be unlawful under the ADA and GINA.

What did the EEOC say:

  • An employer may offer an incentive to employees to voluntarily provide documentation or other confirmation that they received a vaccination on their own.
  • An employer may offer an incentive to employees for voluntarily receiving a vaccination administered by the employer or its agent as long as the incentive is not so substantial as to be coercive, and as long as the employer does not acquire genetic information while administering the vaccines. The EEOC does not offer any guidance at to what "so substantial as to be coercive" means, but it's safe to assume that the incentives employers are offering (a day or two of added PTO, payments or gift cards up to a couple hundred of dollars) will not meet this standards and are safe. And when states are offering the vaccinated the chance to win a million dollars…
  • An employer may not offer any incentives to an employee in exchange for a family member's receipt of a vaccination from the employer or its agent, as such incentive would necessarily require the disclosure of the family medical history of the employee, which would violate GINA.
  • An employer may offer vaccinations to an employee's family members if those vaccines are voluntary, employees are not penalized if their family members are not vaccinated, and all medical information obtained from family members during the pre-vaccine screening process is only used for the purpose of providing the vaccination, is kept confidential, and is not provided to any managers, supervisors, or others who make employment decisions for the employees.
  • Employers may (and I'll add, should) provide employees and their family members with information to educate them about COVID-19 vaccines and raise awareness about the benefits of vaccination.
This guidance is not earth-shattering or surprising. With more than 50 percent of the country having received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, it provides confirmation and legal comfort to those employers that have already offered such incentives. It also follows an important governmental trend we've recently seen across agencies—the adoption of policies intended to incentivize people to get vaccinated. Whether its PTO for vaccines, the CDC's new mask rules, or OSHA reversing course and eliminating its prior guidance that required the reporting of adverse reactions to employer-mandated vaccines, the federal government is actively breaking down barriers that discourage or disincentivize employees from getting vaccinated. 

With only 40.7 percent of the country fully vaccinated, we are a long way from the number needed to reach the all-important herd immunity, if we ever get there. While it feels like life is starting to return to normal, the COVID-19 pandemic is not over yet. Do your part and get your shot. And, if you're an employer looking to get as many of your employees vaccinated as possible, you can rest easier knowing that the EEOC will not penalize you for offering vaccine incentives to your employees.

* Photo by Nhia Moua on Unsplash