Back to normal. Since the pandemic has begun, we want nothing more than to regain our old freedoms. The COVID-19 vaccinations have to ensure this. Many employers would like their employees to be vaccinated as soon as possible. That way their company can go back to normal. Promoting the company as a “COVID Free Zone” can even become a unique selling point. Not only imposing the mandatory vaccination already discussed, but also stimulating vaccination, for instance with a vaccination bonus, is one of the options. But is an employer allowed to do this?

Contrary to when an employer imposes a mandatory vaccination, in case of a vaccination bonus the choice of the employee is not affected. Not getting vaccinated remains an option, but it is made somewhat more appealing to take the vaccine. There are already companies in the Netherlands, the US, and Aruba that have introduced this vaccination bonus. For instance, the employees of DeltaSafe Security in Zeeland receive 100 Euros after their vaccination. Do you work at McDonald’s in the US? In that case you receive 4 paid hours off after the injection. Employees of Wind Creek Aruba hotel even receive 300 dollars for taking the vaccine. Employers in Curacao and the other islands consequently rightly wonder whether they can also introduce such a system here.

Briefly, this is allowed. In principle, there is no legislation prohibiting an employee from being rewarded for whatever reason. Customary reasons are good performance, introducing a new colleague, or not reporting sick for a year. Eventually, it is about what behavior the employer wants to stimulate. This behavior then earns you a bonus. For an employer, getting vaccinated can also be behavior to be stimulated, but some comments have to be made in this connection.

Reward is fine, pressure is not allowed

When the reward is so substantial that it persuades the employees with conscientious objections or even medical impairments to take the vaccine anyway, it goes too far. The reward may not pressure the employee. Think for instance of handing out amounts of money that exceed the normal bonuses and consequently cannot be earned in any other way. In that case, the reward may be regarded as unauthorized pressure, and this is not allowed (as the name already suggests).

There will unlikely be unauthorized pressure when the employer follows the existing bonus policy when determining the amount of the vaccination bonus, or when the bonus does not consist of money. A day off, for example, as McDonald’s does in the US. One can apply the criterion that, when it is plausible that an employee only gets vaccinated for the vaccination bonus, the bonus goes too far. The 100 Euros of DeltaSafe Security, 4 hours off of McDonald’s and 300 dollars of Wind Creek Hotel fall within this limit.

Privacy law and personal medical data

A second and very important comment is privacy. In principle, an employer cannot process personal medical data of its staff. This also includes recording what employees have and have not been vaccinated against COVID-19.

In several special situations an exception can be made with explicit permission from the employee, for instance from a safety perspective for the employee in question. However, it will not include keeping records of bonuses, not even when the employee explicitly gives permission to do so.

The underlying reason is the nature of the relationship between employer and employee. An employee depends on the employer for his income. With this in mind, an employee may sometimes agree to something he does not fully support. The legislator did not want to take the risk that an employee gives permission for processing his personal medical data under the pressure of his dependence on the employer. That is why permission alone is insufficient, in principle.

Consequently, the reward may be given, but the employer may not keep a list of who has been vaccinated. This seems impossible, but there are solutions for it. An employer could do this, for instance:

Step 1. The employer announces its vaccination bonus policy to the employees;

Step 2. Vaccinated employees can report to the employer voluntarily. The employer does not individually approach the employees. Consequently, the employee himself can choose whether he wants to share his data;

Step 3. If an employer chooses to verify whether the employee has indeed been vaccinated, we recommend requesting to be shown the vaccination card. By showing we mean bringing the card to work and showing it. We advise against electronic forwarding, by telephone, or e-mail, for in that case the data are still saved. The employer is not allowed to make a copy of the card either.

Step 4. Why the bonus has been given cannot be specified in the business records. Consequently, a general code or term has to be used, from which it cannot be concluded that the bonus is related to the vaccination.

This is how the employer can prevent (indirect) registration of which employees have and have not been vaccinated.

Working atmosphere, reputation, and ethics

A reasonable bonus, recorded prudently, is consequently possible. However, this does not mean that by definition it is consequently a good idea for every employer to introduce a vaccination bonus. Before doing so, the employer should ask itself the question: should I want this?

Particularly in large companies there will be employees who, for whatever reason, cannot or do not want to be vaccinated. A vaccination bonus can create a divide between the employees within a company. This divide can have a negative impact on the working atmosphere.

In addition, a look at social media and recent reviews of companies that have recently introduced the vaccination bonus gives insight in the negativity this raises in certain people, or, important to an employer, in certain customers. It is a sensitive topic and a vaccination bonus may be an unpopular decision.

Finally, there may be employees within the company who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. One may wonder whether a vaccination bonus is fair in that case. However, one can find a solution by letting these employees prove that they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. If this is the case, they can be included in the vaccination bonus as yet.

Choice of the employer

Considering all this, it is eventually the employer that chooses whether a vaccination bonus benefits the company. You have to consider the amount of the bonus, the processing in the records, and whether the bonus is a suitable means for your company. In addition, you have to take into consideration the working atmosphere, possible negative reactions, and possible medical impairments of your employees.

We hope we can quickly all go back to normal with the current vaccination figures, and perhaps the extra incentive of the vaccination bonuses.

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