Kroger, Target, Trader Joe's among companies offering COVID-19 vaccine incentives

Some say financial incentives pose legal grey area
Posted at 5:23 AM, Feb 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-15 05:22:59-05

(WXYZ) — Several companies have now made public their efforts to get workers vaccinated, including offering one-time bonuses and other financial incentives for employees who opt to get their shot.

“Companies do have a lot of leeway in setting their own policies as to whether or not employees are going to have to receive the vaccine, but how the companies go about doing it can matter from a legal perspective," said Lance Gable, an associate professor at Wayne State Law School.

It's a scenario not totally unfamiliar, Gable noted, as certain wellness incentives have been challenged in the past on the basis of discrimination.

But the unique rollout of the COVID vaccine poses some never-before-seen problems too, he said.

“There are separate issues about whether that is different if the vaccine has only been approved under Emergency Use Authorization.”

Target announced it's giving hourly workers up to four hours of pay and paying for employees' Lyft ride (up to $15 each way) to and from the appointment.

“Taking care of our team has been at the heart of every decision we’ve made since the coronavirus started, and this point in the pandemic is no different,” said Chief Human Resources Officer Melissa Kremer in a corporate blog post. “As more vaccines become available, especially for frontline and essential workers, we’ll help our team members across the country get the information and access they need. As we have for the past year, we’ll continue to invest in our team’s pay and benefits so they can take care of themselves, each other and our guests.”

“I think it’s a good idea for the ones that would like it. It seems like it would be a way to pull people in," said metro Detroiter Sharonda Hall, who isn't sure yet whether or not she'll get her vaccine. She said her employer is not offering any bonuses or perks to get vaccinated.

Kroger is offering employees who get their recommended doses of the vaccine a one-time payment of $100.

"In addition to the new vaccine payment, the company also announced an additional $50 million investment to thank and reward associates across its 35-state footprint, including a $100 store credit and 1,000 fuel points for hourly frontline grocery, supply chain, manufacturing, pharmacy and call center associates. Both rewards will be loaded to associates’ loyalty cards on Thursday, Feb. 11," a Kroger media release stated.

Aldi, Dollar General, and Trader Joe's are all offering workers four hours of pay.

Aldi also said it will "cover costs associated with vaccine administration" for employees who want to get vaccinated.

“There’s an open question right now as to whether a vaccine requirement would be prohibited by the Americans With Disabilities Act.”

Mandating the vaccine is something the CEO of United Airlines has said he's consider.

"I think the right thing to do is for United Airlines, and for other companies, to require the vaccines and to make them mandatory," CEO Scott Kirky said during an employee town hall last month. "If others go along and are willing to start to mandate vaccines, you should probably expect United to be amongst the first wave of companies that do it as well," he said.

“A mandatory vaccination requirement for a COVID vaccine could be permissible under federal law but only if employers put in place potential exceptions and accommodations," said Gable, citing EEOC guidance.

For example, Kroger is offering employees who cannot receive the vaccine due to a medical or religious reason a chance to earn the $100 bonus by taking a health and safety course.

In the EEOC's most recent guidance on wellness incentives, Gable said, it notes that any gifts or incentives companies offer should be modest, like a small gift card, lunch, or the cost of a ride, for example.

Gable believes additional guidance will likely come out as the vaccine rollout continues.

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.

See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.

Visit our The Rebound Detroit, a place where we are working to help people impacted financially from the coronavirus. We have all the information on everything available to help you through this crisis and how to access it.