Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota adds $500 COVID-19 vaccine incentive
The new incentive offers $500 to employees who have received the COVID-19 vaccine or have secured a medical or religious exemption from vaccination.
FARGO — Ninety-four percent of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota employees will soon be receiving $500 from the insurance provider.
That’s because the company has rolled out a $500 incentive for those who have been vaccinated for COVID-19 or have secured an approved medical or religious exemption from receiving the immunization.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota CEO Dan Conrad confirmed the incentive to The Forum Monday, Nov. 29. He said the incentive has been in place for a few weeks and reflects the reality of the tight labor market in the Fargo area and beyond. “Talent is hard to find right now. It’s hard to back-fill positions and find people,” he remarked. “The more we can do to retain the folks we have, we want to do it.”
The incentive, he hoped, will help sway the small fraction of the company’s workforce which has not been vaccinated. “This is our busiest time of year as an insurance company, and so our workforce is really busy,” he said. “We felt like as a company, we respect everybody’s choice of whether they want to get vaccinated or not, but if there’s anything we can do to help those folks who are struggling with the decision, we want to do it.”
The incentive is the latest step in the company’s approach to addressing the subject of vaccine requirements in the workplace.
Over the summer, the company began requiring employees who work in the building or interact with customers face-to-face to be vaccinated. Alternatively, employees could be tested on a weekly basis or continue working from home. “We felt like that really fit our workforce and allowed us to do our part to keep our community safe, keep our workforce safe here in the building and keep our customers safe,” Conrad explained.
The federal government then intervened with a series of mandates designed at increasing vaccination rates nationwide.
The first was the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Emergency Temporary Standard, which would have required all companies with 100 or more employees to craft a vaccination or testing mandate. The standard was paused indefinitely Friday, Nov. 12, when the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals put the order on hold .
Still, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota falls under the purview of Executive Order 14042 , which requires prime contractors of the Federal Employee Program to "provide adequate COVID-19 safeguards to their workers." In response, the company moved to implement its vaccine or exemption policy .
That order was the “most stringent” of the federal mandates issued in the fall, Conrad said. Because Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota and its subsidiary Noridian Healthcare Solutions are one of the state’s largest federal contractors, Conrad said compliance was necessary. “In order to protect that piece of our business, which is a pretty sizable piece of our overall business, we’re obligated to implement the federal contractor vaccine mandate,” he said.
All employees who get vaccinated or secure an exemption by Dec. 15 will receive the $500 payout. The final deadline for employees to vaccinate or receive an accommodation, which Conrad noted is federally established, is the beginning of January. The company has a total of 856 employees, 644 of whom work in North Dakota.
"Unfortunately, as the rules stand today, we have to make that vaccination or accommodation a condition of employment. That’s sad to us, but it’s the reality of the situation and we’re prepared for that."
— Dan Conrad, CEO, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota
Thus far, Conrad said he’s heard of some employees getting vaccinated in response to the incentive. “The only information I have is fairly anecdotal, but I think the response has been positive. We’re hopeful that it’ll lead to additional folks getting vaccinated or getting through our accommodation process.” he said.
Conrad lamented the need for the mandate however, acknowledging that some employees may ultimately opt to leave the company as a result. “I think that’s certainly possible. Obviously we care for our employees and want them all to stay, but we understand and respect that they have personal choices that they’ll make with regard to vaccination. We support them in those decisions,” he said. “Unfortunately, as the rules stand today, we have to make that vaccination or accommodation a condition of employment. That’s sad to us, but it’s the reality of the situation and we’re prepared for that.”