Will paying associates to get COVID-19 vaccines work for Dollar General and Trader Joe’s?

Discussion
Bogalusa, LA Dollar General workers participating in a holiday toy drive - Photo: Dollar General
Jan 15, 2021
George Anderson

Leadership at Dollar General and Trader Joe’s understands that associates can’t stock shelves and serve customers in stores if they are out of work because they’ve joined the growing list of Americans (23.3 million and counting) who have contracted COVID-19. That’s why the retailers are offering to pay employees to get vaccinated against the virus.

Dollar General issued a press release stating that it would pay workers the equivalent of four hours of wages to get one of the vaccines being distributed around the country under an emergency clearance from the Food and Drug Administration. The dollar store retailer is taking the step because it does not operate its own pharmacies and wants to remove obstacles for its employees, such as the cost of childcare or travel.

“We understand the decision to receive the COVID-19 vaccination is a personal choice, and although we are encouraging employees to take it, we are not requiring them to do so,” according to a Dollar General statement.

Trader Joe’s, USA Today reports, is offering workers two hours of pay to get the vaccine. The retailer, like Dollar General, does not operate its own pharmacies. The grocery chain is known for paying higher wages to its hourly workers than the dollar store chain.

While 60 percent of Americans plan to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a new Axios-Ipsos poll, many others are either on the fence or not planning to immunize themselves. There has been reluctance, even outright rejection, across elements of the population for historical, philosophical and political reasons.

Rollout of the vaccine has fallen far short of the Trump administration’s projections, according to reports, due to poor coordination between the federal government and states. Congress has also failed to provide funds to help cash-strapped states set up the infrastructure necessary for distribution.

In a speech yesterday, President-elect Joe Biden laid out his COVID-19 relief strategy known as the American Rescue Plan. It includes a national vaccination program in partnership with states, local communities, Tribes and territories. The plan calls for opening vaccination centers around the U.S. and putting mobile vaccination units on the road to serve hard-to-reach communities. The plan also calls for the administration to work with Congress to pick up the entire cost of the vaccines for Medicare recipients.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How likely are compensation offers like those from Dollar General and Trader Joe’s to raise COVID-19 vaccine compliance among workers? How should retailers manage employees who refuse to be immunized? Do you think the American Rescue Plan, if enacted as proposed, will prove a boost for the retailing industry?

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24 Comments on "Will paying associates to get COVID-19 vaccines work for Dollar General and Trader Joe’s?"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

Given the public concern about vaccinations, the Dollar General approach makes good sense. Offering incentives to employees for taking the vaccine will certainly encourage more employees to get vaccinated. Employees do have the right to decline – and that is their prerogative – however, these employees must continue to strictly follow health and safety protocols that are already in place. This is not a perfect solution, but the more people that get vaccinated the better. Yes, I believe the additional stimulus announced will provide at least a short-term boost to retailing and the economy in general, which will provide more time for vaccinations to occur and the pandemic to subside.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

I don’t know that I agree that employees have a right to decline. I think it should be a condition of employment.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

I agree. Giving them money is nice, but it should indeed be a condition of employment.

Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

Gary, I do agree that employers should take a stronger position on vaccinations, and that’s what I said in a RetailWire post a few weeks back. However given the confusion about vaccines and sincere concern some employees have about it, forcing people to inject something into their bodies does impinge on human rights if you make it a condition of employment. Since the goal is to get people vaccinated, offering incentives seems like a balanced approach.

VeeCee
Guest

As someone that works in a grocery store, I will NOT be forced to get a COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of my employment. I have severe medication allergies, and I cannot even take Advil. I also have adverse reactions to flu shots, and ended up hospitalized twice because of them. While I think it is important to get vaccinated against COVID-19, I personally need more information regarding the side effects, and that won’t happen until a lot more people are vaccinated.

storewanderer
Guest
3 months 5 days ago
Given the rural location of many of these Dollar General Stores, it may not be so easy for these employees to even obtain the vaccination. So it is certainly helpful for the chain to put some pay to the employees to allow them time to get the vaccination, which they may have to drive some distance to actually obtain. As far as making it a condition of employment, it is far too early to do that. Retailers have not made a flu shot a condition of employment and I highly doubt they will make this a condition of employment either. International travel is not the same thing as working in retail — a very small fraction of the population engages in international travel and while there are vaccinations recommended by CDC for specific places, so far, anywhere I’ve gone, which is a few places, which I could enter with the US Passport, nobody at Customs has ever asked me for vaccination records in multiple countries I’ve entered. For those places you need a Visa to… Read more »
Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

I’m not sure it will raise compliance, but it’s both a nice corporate thing to do and certainly removes one objection (I can’t afford the time off). At some point, retailers need to tell employees that without vaccination, their jobs are at risk. We insist on vaccinations to attend school, we should do the same for employment in a public-facing job.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Hmmm: 7 downvotes to quite modest suggestions. Methinks it’s not really money that’s the big issue here.

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust

It is a common-sense policy that should be commended. Vaccination policy cannot be mandated because it opens retailers up to all kinds of liability in case of adverse reactions to vaccines. At the same time, we should expect vaccine passports at least for international travel. It is becoming a cliche to say we are in unprecedented times, but each new milestone is throwing up questions that were never answered before, and we can expect businesses to make rules and policies as they go along. And expect some level of backlash whatever the policy is.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

There are already vaccine requirements in place for international travel. This is just one more vaccine to add to the list.

storewanderer
Guest
3 months 5 days ago

That is not universally true historically; I have entered numerous countries in the past with a US Passport and nothing about vaccinations was ever asked of me by anyone (in the US Passport agency when applying for the passport or by the Customs in the various countries).

There are CDC recommended vaccinations which are recommended for entering various countries.

I expect there are some countries you need a travel Visa to enter that would require you to submit vaccination proof as part of the Visa application process but that isn’t how it has worked historically when traveling from the US with a US Passport to Canada, Mexico, Hong Kong, Macau, and many other places.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

Huge props to Dollar General and Trader Joe’s. Incentivizing vaccinations helps keep their associates healthy and their stores running more smoothly, and it also helps society. There’s no question in my mind that more workers will get vaccinated thanks to these incentives, and I sincerely hope many more businesses follow their lead once the vaccine rollout gains momentum. We are all in this together, and these retailers are setting an excellent example for others to follow.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

This feels like a bare minimum step for employers to take. If the employees were to take any kind of training that enabled better job performance, they’d be paid for their time. This stops short of compulsory vaccinations and, while that’s a different conversation, it’s the fair and appropriate thing to do. And hopefully it will result in a higher level of compliance.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

Really? Wow. As a business owner, if I can say “I won’t wait on certain customers because of my beliefs” (a SCOTUS ruling), can’t I say, “i believe I don’t want any of my employees or my customers to get sick so, in order to work here, you HAVE to get vaccinated”? Seems fair.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

First of all, perhaps, the first step is to have a common sense presentation with the staff on why we have been stressing the safety of face masks and sanitation practices. If I were the president of the company, I would rather pay them to do it rather than to have my customer base hear that my associates have the option of receiving the shots. That’s common sense! Won’t take the shot? – no customer contact for you.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

This is a nice bonus for associates who already plan to get the vaccination and an incentive for those on the fence. People who choose not to vaccinate have that right. Retailers will have to juggle employees much the same way that schools have to deal with children who are not vaccinated for medical, religious or personal reasons.

President-elect Biden’s American Rescue Plan, in partnership with the states, makes sense, too. COVID-19 mandates and guidance on a national level have been needed since the pandemic began.

Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

They need to get the vaccine anyway, so getting paid to get one should make the pinch a little easier to take. For the sake of their livelihood, their families and ours, everyone needs to just suck it up and get it done.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

I would take great pride posting signs in my store stating “Welcome. We are proud to be a 100 percenter store! 100 percent of our staff have been immunized!”

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Somehow this feels very wrong. Why should they pay people to do what is right?

That being said, I suspect those who are willing to get the vaccine will get the money and the money will make no difference to those who decline. Short of the government requiring ALL workers to get the vaccine (like the requirements for attending public schools) no company should force its beliefs on their employees.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

Vaccines are required for school attendance, hospital work — this is a nice, employee friendly gesture but short of a real exemption from an actual physician due to a real medical issue, this should be a requirement of employment. Full disclosure, Mrs. Sankary is a school nurse — as she says, “your massage therapist can not give you a vaccine exemption, sorry.”

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

Retailers have proven to be a beacon of resilience and an example of leadership in such uncertain times. We have all heard the narrative that the retail workers are essential and hyped up as modern-day heroes to ensure that our shelves are stocked, and food is delivered safely.

Aside from compensation increases led by Walmart, which increased many of their associates’ hourly pay from $11 to $15 per hour, retailers have also improved their benefits packages. Another step of this has been to make COVID-19 vaccines more accessible to the store associates. However the safety protocols must continue to be in place even once the vaccines have been distributed.

Vaccination accessibility does not equate to compliance, as there are far-reaching legal implications. There is still a choice unless the vaccines become conditional for employment.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

I think compensation offers won’t significantly change the absolute rate of vaccine acceptance among employees. Those that want the vaccine will get it and pocket the money. Antivaxxers won’t take it no matter what (within reason) you offer them. As to managing employees, let’s look at the vaccination requirements already in place. Several incarnations ago, when I was bartending during and after graduate school, I was required to maintain a valid health card. In order to get the card, I had to demonstrate that I had a number of vaccinations, including the ever popular tetanus shot. No shot, no card. No card, no work. And it wasn’t my employer (technically) who insisted on it, it was a state law. If you want to think of a work around objections to vaccinations, pass a law that says everyone working in retail must be current on their COVID-19 shots. If it’s a matter of personal choice, employers simply have no power of coercion to force vaccination compliance.

storewanderer
Guest
3 months 5 days ago

The point here is you have two extremes. You have the extreme that wants the vaccine ASAP, and then you have the anti-vax extreme that does not ever want the vaccine. But both of those groups are in the minority of the population. But in the middle, which is the majority of people, you have many, many people who are indifferent about getting the vaccine. They will get it if it is convenient or easy to do so, but won’t really go out of their way for it (or out of their way to avoid it, per se). These incentives by the retailers are to help push those “middle” people to get the vaccine in a timely manner. The incentives will speed up the vaccine penetration percentage among the population.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I dithered between “somewhat” and “very” unlikely because it occurred to me that cost may be an issue for some people; and while I’ve no idea whether that’s true for TJ and DG specifically, since we’re talking about retail in general — a notoriously low-pay occupation — I think at some point it will be.

Beyond that, I’m not overly optimistic: people don’t want to be immunized — I’ll not use the word “resist” since it carries a lot of baggage — for a variety of reasons, and I don’t think reimbursement is going to make many of them go away.

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