The federal government on Friday said employers can offer incentives to employees who receive COVID-19 vaccines without violating federal anti-discrimination laws, an announcement that comes as several states have launched programs to increase inoculation rates.
In an update of its COVID-19 guidance, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also said employers could require all workers physically entering a workplace to be vaccinated against the coronavirus but that federal law may require the employer to provide reasonable accommodations for employees who aren’t vaccinated because of a disability or religious belief.
Employers are allowed to offer incentives to employees who receive vaccinations through their employer or an affiliated agent so long as the incentive is ''not so substantial as to be coercive.''
''Because vaccinations require employees to answer pre-vaccination disability-related screening questions, a very large incentive could make employees feel pressured to disclose protected medical information,'' it said. ''However, this incentive limitation does not apply if an employer offers an incentive to employees to voluntarily provide documentation or other confirmation that they received a COVID-19 vaccination on their own from a third-party provider that is not their employer or an agent of their employer.''
The EEOC also said employers are required to keep their staff’s vaccination information confidential.
California launched its COVID-19 vaccination incentive program earlier Friday with a total of $116.5 million being awarded to a handful of people who receive the shots. The grand prize of $15 million is split among 10 vaccinated Californians ages 12 years and up.
Ohio, Maryland, Delaware and New York offered similar incentives, while New Jersey offered free state parks passes. CVS announced its own incentive program, saying people who get shots at the pharmacy will be entered to win prizes including Super Bowl tickets, a seven-day cruise and hotel stays.
Dollar General Corp. is offering four hours of pay to those who take the shots, and Bolthouse Farms said it would pay $500 to full-time hourly workers who get the vaccine.
Marc Freedman, vice president of employment policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told The Wall Street Journal that the guidance should help quell concerns about returning to the workplace.
''To the extent that employees are concerned that coming back to the workplace will put them at risk of getting COVID-19, anything that helps an employer get more employees vaccinated will help make the case that the workplace is safe,'' he said.
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