Employer Tools In the Fight Against COVID-19: Paid COVID-19 Vaccine and Sick Leave

As the Delta variant surges, and “breakthrough” infections become more commonplace, employers may want to revisit the concept of providing paid sick leave.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people infected with the Delta variant can transmit it to others, according to CDC guidance here. In fact, “[t]he greatest risk of transmission is among unvaccinated people who are much more likely to contract and, therefore, transmit the virus.”

Yet two of the top 5 reasons Americans cite for not being vaccinated are (i) fear of losing their jobs and (ii) an unexpected dip in their paychecks that they simply cannot afford, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study I read about in The Washington Post today.

Lack of Paid COVID-19 Vaccine Leave

Workers who do not get paid time off to get the shot or deal with potential side effects are less likely to get the vaccine, research by the Kaiser study shows.

About two out of ten unvaccinated employees said if their employer gave them paid time off they’d be more likely to get vaccinated, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey of 1,888 adults conducted from June 8 to June 21. Kaiser vaccine clinic representatives said in interviews that the time-off issue was one of a handful they commonly hear from vaccine hesitant people.

Employers, providing paid sick leave for workers to be vaccinated does not have to come out of your pockets.

Tell Me More

At least for businesses with less than 500 employees, employers can get a paid leave tax credit if they provide full pay for any employee that takes time to get a COVID-19 vaccine or recover from the side effects of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The American Rescue Plan is funding this tax credit for up to $511/day per vaccinated employee.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has this handy fact sheet to educate employers on how to claim the paid sick leave credit on their quarterly tax filings, and the U.S. Department of Treasury provided this snapshot for additional guidance.

One worker commented that he’d be vaccinated if he had been offered paid time off, but his employer (a fast food restaurant) did not offer the benefit to get the vaccine or deal with the after effects — or sick pay, in general. Another said she always wanted to get the vaccine, but never felt like she had the time or ability to do so with a full-time job and child care responsibilities at home.

Image by Yerson Retamal from Pixabay

What About Paid Sick Leave?

While we talk about employer-provided incentives for employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine, paid sick leave continues to be a less-than-common benefit in states and localities that do not mandate it.

According to SHRM (the Society of Human Resource Management), as of April 2021, only 17 states (including the District of Columbia) have statewide permanent paid sick leave laws. Sorry, you need to be a paying member to access this chart, which includes localities as well, but message me if you want more information.

This is a matter of safety in the workplace too.

Indeed, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) just issued updated guidance on mitigating and preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. In its recent guidance, OSHA emphasized that the COVID-19 vaccine remains the most effective way to protect against severe illness and death from COVID-19.

Employers, are you doing what you can?

If you’re not required by your state—or city or county (think Chicago, Montgomery County, Maryland, and tons of localities in California)—to provide paid sick leave or temporary COVID-19 vaccine leave, consider providing employees with the time needed to get the vaccine and/or recover from its side effects while being reimbursed by the Federal Government to do so.

It doesn’t seem like COVID-19 is going away anytime soon.

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Amy Epstein Gluck

Amy Epstein Gluck has represented individuals and corporate clients in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and various federal district courts for more than twenty years. Ms. Epstein Gluck’s current practice areas include employment law—advising on and drafting employment agreements; handling employment negotiations, severance agreements, noncompete and nondisclosure agreements, “wrongful terminations” and other EEO matters; representation at the EEOC level; advising employers about discrimination laws and how to remain in compliance, and employment negotiations.