The Kroger grocery chain is currently donating $ 100 to employees who get vaccinated and offering two weeks of paid emergency leave to workers sick with the coronavirus. But the company announced last week that those carrots would soon be joined by a few sticks: From January 1, paid emergency leave will no longer be offered to unvaccinated workers who are infected. And salaried employees who refuse immunizations will have a monthly supplement of $ 50 added to their company health care plan.
These are reasonable business responses to unreasonable hesitation about which vaccines are helping to prolong the pandemic. With the Biden administration’s attempts to impose vaccines encountering a setback in much of society and in the courts, these kinds of private business initiatives could prove crucial in managing the crisis.
President Joe Biden’s call for federal immunization or testing requirements for healthcare workers, federal contractors and employees of large corporations is not a radical new idea. Federal health and safety requirements tailored to specific types of workplaces have been around for generations, as have school vaccination mandates. Given that the virus has killed more Americans in the past two years than combat deaths in the country’s entire history – and given that coronavirus vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective – requiring vaccination for those who want to work with medical patients or in large, overcrowded workplaces are a no-brainer.
But what makes sense and what is realistic in today’s political climate are two different things. The politicization of this medical problem and the snail pace of the legal system mean Biden’s mandates are unlikely to be fully enforceable anytime soon. And the Conservatives will likely continue to demonize the very notion of federally required health measures as intrusions into personal choice.
This argument evaporates, however, when companies themselves decide to impose demands on their employees to protect both their workforce and their customers. The efforts of so-called conservatives like the Govs. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas to ban companies from requiring employee vaccinations only underscore how hypocritical and cowardly some politicians have become. There is nothing conservative about handcuffing the pandemic policy choices of private companies like this.
Kroger’s employee incentives for vaccination – and, soon, disincentives for the unvaccinated – are a more nuanced approach than federal mandates, and more difficult to argue with. Even among those who believe that employees have a fundamental right to endanger their colleagues by refusing vaccination, how many are likely to argue that they should also be given additional paid leave, at the expense of their employer, to recover of this preventable disease if and when they get it?
When it comes to the $ 50 supplement, the point is, the unvaccinated are more likely to get sick, so it’s reasonable for health plans to charge them more. Conservatives, rejoice. Such business decisions are the very essence of responsible free enterprise.
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