Why Everyone Should Get Paid Time Off For The COVID-19 Vaccine

by Jeremy

Last Wednesday morning, Kate, a financial tech engineer based in Michigan, used her previous four hours of paid time off to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Kate, who asked that her full name not be used because she fears reprisal at work, said her vaccine experience took more than two hours: an hour of driving, an hour of waiting, and 15 minutes of mandatory observation time afterward. “I was in a rush to get out of there,” she said because her job requires her to clock in.

Kate said her employer gives her 14 days of paid time off per year, including sick days, and it denied requests that she and her co-workers be given an additional two days of time off specifically to get the COVID-19 vaccine. “They said, ‘We’re already so generous with our PTO,’” Kate said. “Obviously, if we’re asking for the time, then we don’t have it.“


The day after her shot, Kate experienced side effects. “I was so out of it. I was achy all over; I was exhausted. I could barely work,” she said. “It’s like, ‘Why am I here? I’m not even helping.’” Because Kate was given the Pfizer vaccine, she still needs a second dose and is uncertain how to schedule it around her workday. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I guess they take an unpaid day of vacation for that?”

Kate wishes her employer had been open to designating specific PTO for coronavirus-related appointments, so she didn’t have to use her limited time off for getting COVID-19 tests and the vaccine. “It doesn’t make sense not to give that,” she said. “People are so burnt out. We’ve been working for a year in a pandemic.”

Her experience underscores that although the COVID-19 vaccine is currently accessible in the United States, there are other financial, psychological, and emotional costs to getting the shot that some employers are making worse.

Getting paid time off for your vaccine appointment depends on where you live and who you work for.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that employers give employees paid sick leave for COVID-19 vaccine recovery, but federal law does not require it. The American Rescue Plan Act, the stimulus bill signed into law on March 11, doesn’t require paid leave for vaccinations but does give a tax credit to certain employers who offer it. As a result, paid time off for COVID-19 vaccination is left to the discretion of states, cities, and individual employers.

“If paid time off was based on the recovery time needed by those who participated in clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines, it should be 48 hours for most people.”

For example, in New York state, workers are entitled to at least four hours of paid time off per shot. In California, full-time employees can get up to 80 hours of paid time off for vaccine-related self-care, including recovery from side effects. McDonald’s mandated four hours of paid time off for vaccination, while Starbucks is offering two hours of paid time off per dose, and Walmart says associates can get up to three days of PTO if they have adverse side effects. At Amazon, workers who experience side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine can take time off but won’t be paid for it.

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