Ask HR: Vaccine Incentives

Can I Pay My Employees to Get the COVID Vaccine?

Katie Micik Dehlinger
By  Katie Micik Dehlinger , Farm Business Editor
As coronavirus vaccines become more widely available, there are steps farmers can take to encourage employees to take advantage of the new availability. (DTN photo by Elaine Thomas)

MT. JULIET, Tenn. (DTN) -- While some large agribusinesses like Tyson Foods are organizing onsite vaccination clinics, other companies are opting to offer incentives that they hope will encourage employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Many of these companies are offering extra pay, paid time off or something similar to encourage employees to get vaccinated. Founder of national agricultural employment recruiting service, AgHires, and DTN HR Coach, Lori Culler, said a COVID-19 outbreak during a farm's busy seasons could be devastating and she knows several large farming operations that are taking a page out of corporate America's playbook by offering incentives to employees that get their vaccines. She shares what farmers can learn from these various approaches, how to apply them to their business and how to think through potential issues in the edited Q&A below.

Q: Why would I want to consider providing an incentive?

A: "A farm that I know very well is paying all of its employees to get the shot. The local labor is primarily Hispanic, but it has a large number of H2-A workers, too. There's still some hesitation on getting that vaccine, and he didn't want to have all those employees together, not vaccinated. So he encouraged them by saying, 'Hey I'm going to pay you if you go get your shot or shots.' Even on my own team, I have some hesitation. Everyone's got different feelings on this, but we all know we can't be short on labor, so I would think most farms would want employees vaccinated."

Q: What are some of the things I can do to encourage people to get vaccinated?

A: "You could do you could do a flat amount. Let and encourage them knowthat they'll get a bonus when they can come back and prove that they've been vaccinated. Some individuals are paying so much per hour, let's say, three hours of additional work-paid time for each shot that you get. So, if you got the two-shot vaccine that's six hours of paid extra time. You could do a flat amount across the board, or you could base it on hourly rates. I've also seen gift cards done. I've seen some people offer gift cards with a smaller amount, like $25. But I think it has to be a high enough amount to encourage employees to do it. If it's a $25 gift card, I don't know that would sway my decision to get the shot in the arm if I'm hesitant. Now, if it's more like $100, I'd definitely start thinking about it. I think you have to offer a substantial amount to get employees thinking about getting that shot. Now, for every farm, it's going to be a little different. One farm I know paid several hundred dollars per person in a bonus, but he didn't even want to mess around with it. He really wanted it to be a yes answer. So, if you really want to encourage a yes answer across the board, then swing a little higher in terms of that incentive. Sometimes it also helps to be an advocate, like helping them find what website they need to use to make an appointment, and say things like 'Here's the link to the website,' or 'You can take off at any time to get the shot and we will reward you.' Just really make sure it is an open environment. I know for our county, you put your name in and they tell you when to go. You don't have a lot of choice. But just a couple of counties over, people are allowed to schedule their times. Every state and county's rules are different, so know what those are in your area."

Q: What should I do if one of my employees has a bad reaction to the vaccine or gets sick with COVID-19?

A: "It's one thing to offer the incentive to do it, but employees are not going to want to miss a paycheck or even a couple of days of pay. So, it's important to have a policy and communicate it clearly. To me, it's a hands-down no-brainer that they should be paid for time off, but I don't think we're getting that same reaction amongst all farmers. Some say employees need to use vacation time or their PTO time for it. But if we're trying to ensure we're the employer of choice -- and at a time where it's really tight on talent -- it's not the time to say, 'Hey, we're not going to pay if you're off. You're going to have to use your vacation time.' I just don't know if that's a good strategy as an employer. I do get that it costs a little more, but I think the support of the employees helps determine what kind of culture you want on your farm. It speaks volumes if you pay for employees to be off other than when they're sick with COVID-19."

Q: What about employees who still don't want to get vaccinated?

A:"You have to respect that they're not going to get the shot. They cannot be penalized for their choice, just as if they didn't get a flu shot."

Katie Dehlinger can be reached at

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Katie Dehlinger