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McDonald’s Will Pay Employees To Get COVID-19 Vaccine

As one of the largest fast food chains, McDonald's vaccine distribution strategy could impact how other major QSRs move ahead with vaccinating employees.

McDonald's is providing four hours of paid time-off for U.S. corporate employees and workers at company-owned restaurants who receive the COVID-19 vaccine, the company said in an email to 1851 Franchise. 

“Vaccination is essential in the fight against the pandemic, and we are actively encouraging McDonald’s employees to take this important step,” Tiffanie Boyd, McDonald's U.S. chief people officer, told 1851 Franchise. “We will provide four hours of paid time to crew at McDonald’s corporate-owned U.S. restaurants and to U.S.corporate employees who receive the vaccine.”

Although McDonald’s will not require employees to get vaccinated, the brand encourages it and will “connect workers with third-party experts to share information and answer questions about the vaccine.” 

How McDonald’s Has Supported Employees During COVID-19

Since the beginning of the pandemic, McDonald’s has led many initiatives to support employees and was one of the first to roll out increased paid sick leave

“Since COVID-19 began impacting the U.S., McDonald’s USA has updated nearly 50 processes to keep restaurant employees and customers safe and has issued a 59-page guide outlining national standards for restaurants,” McDonald’s said. “These standards include wellness checks, protective barriers, adhering to social distancing guidelines for customers and crew, using gloves and masks, increasing the frequency of handwashing and moving to contactless operations. PPE is in ample supply for all restaurants; to date, more than 110 million masks have been distributed to crew.”

The paid time off for employees represents the chain’s latest COVID-19 related expense, as the chain reported providing PPE for employees had an impact on its profits during their latest earnings call. The chain spent $45 million in COVID-19 related expenses in its international segment this quarter, according to an SEC filing

How Other Brands Are Promoting Vaccination

McDonald's isn't alone in providing vaccination incentives for its employees. Darden Restaurants is offering hourly workers two hours of pay for each dose of the COVID-19 vaccine they receive. The company specifically chose to pay employees instead of requiring them to eat into sick days to encourage more participation. The rate will be based on the workers’ earnings, including tips, over the past 13 weeks. The max rate is $20 per hour, and employees will need to show evidence of vaccination to receive this money. 

Chipotle also said the chain will pay for costs associated with vaccinating employees, but will not make vaccination mandatory. 

It is important to note that both Chipotle and Darden are not franchised, which means the vaccine initiatives will have a much larger impact on their respective labor pools than McDonald’s plan.

What Can Franchisees Do?

Since 95% of U.S. McDonald’s locations are franchise-owned, the vaccination initiative impacts less than 5% of domestic restaurants, with franchisees responsible for making their own financial decisions around employee vaccination and sick leave for their workforce. For example, the operator of a McDonald’s franchise restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky made headlines after paying $1,135 in back wages to an employee after the employer failed to pay for expanded family and medical leave to care for her child when the pandemic led to the closure of their childcare.

While it is legal to require COVID-19 vaccination according to The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, many employers feel that receiving the vaccine is a personal choice and have been hesitant to initiate any official policies.

Although McDonald’s franchisees would need to cover the costs themselves, the chain’s corporate strategy suggests that incentivizing employees to get vaccinated may be worth it in the long run if it creates a stronger business and a safer environment for customers. In addition, as one of the nation’s largest fast food chains, McDonald’s decision could push the rest of the QSR industry in a similar direction.

“Ensuring widespread availability and access to the vaccine will require extraordinary partnerships between businesses, governments and community and health organizations, and we’re engaging with government officials and our partners to understand where McDonald’s can further support this work,” McDonald’s said.