Can my Organization Incentivize the COVID-19 Vaccine in its Wellness Program?

COVID-19, Employee Benefits

Ever since it was announced that a COVID-19 vaccine would be available for distribution in the United States, M3 has received this question from our clients. We hosted a vaccine webinar in December 2020 in partnership with Michael Landrum, MD, Infectious Disease Specialist, Bellin Health and Scott LeBlanc, JD, Labor & Employment and Health Care Attorney, Godfrey & Kahn, S.C. to dive deep into the research behind the vaccine, as well as the legal considerations for employers. If you haven’t tuned into the recording yet, we recommend you start there:

Can Employers Incentivize the COVID-19 Vaccine in their Wellness Program?

There are many considerations that should be taken into account before employers take any action regarding the COVID-19 vaccine’s impact to their wellness program.


When Scott LeBlanc, JD of Godfrey & Kahn, S.C. was asked, “Are there any limits that we need to be concerned about in offering incentives for those employees who choose to get the vaccine?” he responded:

“Employers should consult with counsel regarding the limits imposed by HIPAA with respect to rewards provided under wellness programs. Generally, there is an aggregate limit of all incentives to 30% of the single employee cost of coverage.”

— Scott LeBlanc, JD
JD of Godfrey & Kahn, S.C.

Exceptions to incentivizing vaccines

Some employers maintain wellness programs that incentivize employees for receiving vaccines like the annual flu shot. Though it may seem like a simple line to draw from vaccine to vaccine, use caution and consult with your organization’s legal counsel before taking any action.

It’s important to have an understanding of the exceptions that may be in play as well. Disability and religious exemptions may apply. We talked with Scott LeBlanc about this topic in our webinar, and you can dive into the details here.

Vague definitions regarding who can receive vaccine and when

At this time, the COVID-19 vaccine is also not readily available to anyone who may want to receive it. It can be difficult to allocate an incentive for this reason.

At the time of publication, there are not clear logistics or definitions from the federal or state governments on which individuals fall into specific phases of distribution, who is considered an “essential worker”, etc. Until there are more details available about the process of vaccine distribution, it may be wise to consult with your organization’s legal counsel and hold off on taking action in regard to your wellness program.

Key Takeaway

Employers who are interested in incentivizing their employees for receiving the COVID-19 vaccine as a part of their wellness program would be well-served to consult with their legal counsel, and refer to U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as well as Department of Health Services (DHS) guidelines to determine exceptions and obligations before moving forward. At the time of publication, it is difficult to determine an effective and equal way to incentivize employees for the COVID-19 vaccine as a part of an employer wellness program.

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