Instacart, others push incentives to get workers vaccinated

FILE- In this Aug. 3, 2017, file photo the Dollar General store is pictured in Luther, Okla. As vaccinations continue across the U.S., some companies are offering financial incentives to encourage their workers to get the shots. Dollar General is one of the first major companies to announce extra pay for workers who get vaccinated. The Tennessee-based retailer said Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021 it will give employees the equivalent of four hours of pay if they get the vaccine.

As vaccinations continue across the U.S., some companies are offering financial incentives to encourage their workers to get the shots.

Instacart Inc., the grocery delivery service, announced last week that it would provide a $25 stipend for workers who get the COVID-19 vaccine. It joins others, including Trader Joe’s and Dollar General, which plan to pay workers extra if they get vaccinated.

“Our goal with the introduction of our new vaccine support stipend is to ensure that, when the time comes, Instacart shoppers don’t have to choose between earning income as an essential service provider or getting vaccinated,” Instacart CEO Apoorva Mehta said.

San Francisco-based Instacart has nearly doubled its mostly gig workforce to about 500,000 to meet a surge in demand for online grocery shopping since the pandemic erupted in the U.S. last spring.

Grocery chain Trader Joe’s, which has more than 50,000 employees, said it will give employees two hours of pay per dose for getting the vaccine. The Monrovia, California-based company said it will also shift around schedules to make sure employees have time to get vaccinated.

Dollar General said it will give employees the equivalent of four hours of pay if they get the vaccine. The Goodlettsville, Tennessee-based retailer said it employs 157,000 people.

A vaccine advisory panel at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control voted late last month on recommendations for vaccine distribution. The panel said grocery workers — which would include Instacart and Dollar General’s employees — should be in the second group to receive shots after health care workers and nursing home residents.

It is up to each state to decide how and when to adopt the CDC’s recommendations. Some states have already opened eligibility to the second group, which also includes firefighters, police, teachers, corrections workers, postal employees and people 75 and older. There are about 50 million people in that group.

Companies can mandate that workers get COVID-19 vaccines as a requirement for employment, although they must make accommodations for medical or religious reasons, according to guidance from the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

However, most companies are reluctant to impose such mandates, said Sharon Perley Masling, a partner at the law firm Morgan Lewis who has been advising clients on workplace issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. The emergency nature of the vaccine’s FDA approval makes it impractical for many companies to require it, given that the shots are not available to most of the population, she said.

Still, Masling said the companies she works with are taking various steps to strongly encourage their workers to get vaccinated, including internal public relations campaigns.

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