COVID Vaccine Incentives: Your Alternative to Mandating Inoculation

Due to employee pushback, many employers are now looking for COVID vaccine incentives instead of implementing a mandatory vaccination policy.



With complaints of “employer overreach” and the fear of creating morale issues, many employers are looking for COVID vaccine incentives to encourage employees to become vaccinated instead of implementing a mandatory vaccination policy.

But there’s a catch. Because the EEOC has not provided guidance otherwise, a vaccination policy may be viewed as a wellness policy. And, unfortunately, offering incentives for a wellness policy can be… complicated. Why? Because not everyone is medically or religiously eligible to get vaccinated, and that creates a disparity between those who can and cannot be inoculated to receive a reward.

As a result, employers must provide a way for those ineligible for vaccination to also receive the same and/or comparable benefit, unless the incentive is considered de minimus (typically $25 or less in value). If your employees would be incentivized with a $25 gift card to be inoculated, then great! If not, here are additional options to try.

COVID Vaccine Incentives: Start with Education

The biggest barrier of employees choosing not to be inoculated is because of what they’ve heard (“The Social Dilemma,” anyone?). There’s a lot of misinformation - or lack of information - preventing people from feeling comfortable about the vaccine.

The CDC has a number of resources to make vaccine education easy with these free communication pieces that provide information from a reliable source.

Your company can print, email, and share these materials with your staff to help educate them. When employees receive accurate information about how the vaccine has been tested, its effectiveness, and other statistics regarding its safety, they’re more likely to get vaccinated.

You can also show how trusted members of the workforce, government, community, upper management, and other influencers have received the vaccination. This may ease any apprehension on whether they’re being used as guinea pigs.

COVID Vaccine Incentives: Offer Reimbursement for Associated Costs

If a site isn’t near your workplace, employees may need to take an Uber, catch a train, take a taxi, or even drive to get to a vaccination clinic. You can reimburse employees for their transportation and/or mileage costs to be vaccinated. Treat the excursion as time worked if it happens during regular work hours, or offer to cover family care costs if they go after hours to receive their vaccination.

In the event you have a large workforce and/or open space, the CDC has resources to help you set up your own onsite vaccination clinic. The convenience alone may entice employees who otherwise wouldn’t make time to be vaccinated!

Tip: If you require proof of vaccination for employees to receive reimbursement, remind them to only provide the vaccination card. No medical information beyond the vaccination card should be provided.

COVID Vaccine Incentives: Paid Sick Leave

If your company has elected to continue offering emergency paid sick leave for COVID-related reasons (which is reimbursed through federal tax credits), the American Rescue Plan (ARP) recently expanded the list of qualifications for paid sick leave to include “obtaining a COVID-19 immunization or recover from any injury, disability, illness, or condition related to such immunization…”

This means employees can take federally-reimbursed paid sick leave (if still offered by your company) to get vaccinated, as well as time to recover from it afterwards -- although additional time for recovery may require medical diagnosis. What’s more is the ARP also reset paid sick leave as of April 1, 2021. So if an employee had already exhausted their 80 hours of paid sick leave previously, they will have a new balance of hours available as of April 1, 2021.

COVID Vaccine Incentives: Paid Time Off

If your company no longer offers emergency paid sick leave but you want to still incentivize with paid time off, you can do this as long as those who are unable to be vaccinated are eligible for the same incentive.

Consider having unvaccinated employees earn or use this paid time by completing any of the following Alternative Vaccine Incentive Activities:

  • Watching a COVID-19 safety video
  • Hanging any of the above CDC posters about vaccination safety around the workplace
  • Creating internal emails that increase awareness about the benefits of being vaccinated
  • Attending a COVID-19 class and/or webinar
  • Any other comparable activity that helps promote awareness and safety of the vaccine

Making the alternative activity related to the COVID-19 vaccination may help educate and encourage other employees to choose to be vaccinated, which may be an extremely valuable use of paid time.

COVID Vaccine Incentives: Prize Drawings

Another idea is to have one or multiple lucrative prizes up for grabs in a drawing for everyone who is vaccinated. For those who are not vaccinated but still want to participate, they again may gain eligibility by completing any of the above-mentioned Alternative Vaccine Incentive Activities related to the COVID-19 vaccine.

COVID Vaccine Incentives: Have Contests Between Departments

Be creative with an internal contest among departments and have it center around being vaccinated. Once again, everyone may become eligible (including those who aren’t vaccinated) by completing any of the above-mentioned Alternative Vaccine Incentive Activities that are comparable in time spent being vaccinated and recovering.


While offering vaccination incentives may sound complicated, it’s as simple as educating employees and then offering attractive incentives with alternative activities that allow everyone to be included. For questions, please contact your certified HR expert.



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