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McDonald’s encourages vaccinations as it prepares for employee mandate

Franchisees are trying incentives and vaccine clinics. But the company has also sourced tests for those who resist the inoculation.
McDonald's vaccinate mandate
McDonald's is working on ways to encourage its employees to get vaccinated./Photograph: Shutterstock

McDonald’s franchisees are taking steps to encourage their employees to get vaccinated, from financial incentives to hosting vaccination clinics, as it prepares for an upcoming federal mandate that employees of large companies get inoculated against COVID-19.

But the company is also doing something else: Sourcing enough tests for franchisees to buy for their unvaccinated employees.

McDonald’s operators will be paying for the self-administered tests, which unvaccinated employees will have to take weekly, as they prepare for the upcoming mandate, which will be enforced by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, or OSHA.

The effort underscores the challenges that restaurants could have as they prepare for the mandate. The mandate requires employees at companies with 100 or more workers get vaccinated or be tested weekly.

A lot of questions remain unanswered, such as whether that includes the number of workers or full-time equivalents, or whether it’s calculated on a per-location or a per-company basis.

McDonald’s effort reveals that the company is taking few chances. The vast majority of the chain’s nearly 14,000 locations would likely fall under the mandate, anyway. A typical restaurant employs about 50 people. The typical franchisee in the system operates about seven locations.

At the same time, the effort highlights the tightrope many of these operators must walk as they look to comply with the regulations at a time when labor remains historically difficult to find.

Operators generally want to get their employees vaccinated because it makes it easier to comply with various restrictions—and is cheaper than funding the tests. But they are also reluctant to do anything that would lead their employees to find other jobs, given that many of them are already operating with short staffs and shortened operating hours.

And franchisees have had challenges convincing workers to get the shot.

Vaccination rates vary by state, from 40% of the population in places like West Virginia to close to 70% in parts of New England. Yet vaccination rates are lower among younger people. Only 52% of people 18 to 24 are fully vaccinated, for instance. By comparison, 73% of people 50 to 64 are vaccinated, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Many lower-level workers are younger and therefore a lot less likely to be vaccinated. One McDonald’s franchisee pays $100 bonuses to workers who get vaccinated but many low-level employees still opt not to get the vaccine.

McDonald’s last Thursday held a webcast with its operators to go over restaurant safety. According to notes from the meeting seen by Restaurant Business, operators shared ideas for encouraging vaccinations, including the incentives, education and access through vaccination clinics.

Yet with many workers unlikely to get vaccinated by the time the requirement is put in place, the company has been able to find a source for self-administered COVID tests that franchisees buy and workers take weekly.

The cost for franchisees can add up. If 50% of a restaurant’s employees are unvaccinated, that would cost about $250 per week, per location, or $3.4 million for the entire system.

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