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First Watch to pay staff for vaccinations. New research says that's smart

Newly released data suggests that even a modest cash incentive can be effective.
Photograph: Shutterstock

The First Watch breakfast-and-lunch chain has joined employers such as McDonald’s and Shake Shack in paying workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19, an approach validated by new research as an effective way of getting Americans to roll up their sleeves.

More than two-thirds of the U.S. population would get the shots if they were compensated for the time and effort, according to surveys conducted by the cash-card supplier Blackhawk Ventures. Half that group indicated they would be motivated by as little as $100.

Restaurant employers that are offering to compensate team members for time spent getting the shots say the pay is often viewed as found money because the workers intended to be vaccinated in any case. Most of the early converts are offering two hours of paid time off per dose, usually at the worker’s normal wage rate. Shack Shake is providing three hours per shot.

First Watch is offering $15 an hour for two hours of time off, according to an announcement posted by CEO Chris Tomasso on LinkedIn.

“First Watch is encouraging and supporting all employees in our restaurants and our Home Office who elect to receive the Covid-19 vaccine,” Tomasso wrote.

Offering paid time off has emerged as the method of choice for getting restaurant workers to opt for vaccines. Proponents range from giants such as Darden Restaurants, the parent of Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse, to Knead Hospitality, an operator of three concepts in the Washington, D.C., area. First Watch operates or franchises 368 restaurants, according to Technomic.

About 29% of restaurant workers don’t intend to get vaccinated against COVID-19, with most citing fears about the unknown effects, according to research released by the workforce technology company Harri. More than a fifth of the balkers say they’re opposed to all vaccines.



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