Delta Airlines will charge unvaccinated employees $200 a month each, according to an Aug. 25 announcement. The airline characterized this move as necessary to offset health care costs from employees who contract COVID-19 — though it’s also a milestone for corporate entities shifting from incentives to punishments in guiding employee behavior.
As the Associated Press noted in its coverage, Delta CEO Ed Bastian deemed the move necessary, given that the average hospital stay for a Delta-affiliated COVID-19 patient costs the airline $50,000.
“This surcharge will be necessary to address the financial risk the decision to not vaccinate is creating for our company,” Bastian said in a memo to employees.
But as noted by the New York Times, other companies could follow Delta’s lead. Government-led efforts to vaccinate Americans have had some success — but not nearly at the levels that health officials had hoped for.
“The shift from incentives like extra pay or time off to get the shot to financial penalties for choosing not to is a noteworthy change in corporate vaccination initiatives,” the Times article noted. “Companies are taking a tougher stance even if they, like Delta, stop short of mandating that workers get the vaccine or lose their jobs.”
The article also mentioned that “companies are on sound legal footing for imposing vaccine mandates for employees,” but Delta stopped short of this measure in its announcement.
“Every company has to make its own decision for its culture,” Bastian said in a CNN interview relayed by the Times. “I think these added voluntary steps, short of mandating a vaccine, are going to get us as close to 100% as we can.”
Another New York Times article noted that close to 14% of U.S. employers are now requiring employees to be vaccinated or are phasing in a similar plan. That’s up sharply from just 3% in May.
Marketplace characterized the move as “hitting employees in the paycheck,” and, according to one behavioral economist the outlet spoke to, it could work.
“We know from a lot of work in behavioral economics that a dollar lost is probably roughly twice that of a dollar gained,” Kevin Volpp with the Penn Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics said. “So a $200 penalty will have a little bit more of an impact than a $200 reward.”
ABC’s Sam Sweeney, in tweeting out the news, did share one detail that keen observers picked up on.
Delta used the more scientific B.1.617.2 variant name for the delta variant, which is blamed for the majority of the recent rise in cases and hospitalizations — and, of course, shares its name with the airline taking a stance against it.