Clayton Early Learning mobile vaccine clinic

A patient receives a COVID-19 vaccine shot during an event held for Clayton Early Learning employees in February. The vaccines were provided by Denver Health's mobile clinic, which is targeting ZIP codes that have been hit hard by COVID-19 or traditionally have barriers to accessing health care. Scott Dressel Martin/Photo courtesy of Clayton Early Learning

The City Council will consider a proposal to give $400 bonuses to city employees in compliance with Denver’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate after a council committee approved the plan Tuesday.

The proposal passed in a 4-2 vote after it was delayed in September due to criticisms from committee members regarding the inclusion employees exempt from getting the vaccine for religious or medical reasons.

The proposal has since been edited to only provide the bonus to exempt employees if they do not violate any of the exemption accommodations by Dec. 10, including masking, testing and physical distancing, city officials said. 

“I still struggle … but I want to first acknowledge that you were responsive to the request that all employees be treated more equally in having to earn their bonus rather than getting it for doing nothing,” said Councilwoman Robin Kniech, who led the committee's opposition to the proposal last month but voted “yes” Tuesday.

If passed by the full council, the proposal would use $5 million from the city’s general fund to give $400 “rewards” to city employees who complied with the city’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate by the Sept. 30 deadline.

As of Friday, 98.7% of Denver’s 10,869 full-time employees are in compliance with the mandate, according to city data. This includes 652 employees who received an exemption. Another 14 exemption requests are still under review.

All full-time, part-time and on-call city employees would be eligible for the bonus. The bonus proposal wouldn't apply to elected officials like the council members.

City officials portrayed the bonuses as a “reward,” saying the program isn't intended to be a stimulus or an incentive for employees to get vaccinated. Some council members raised issue with this, saying they shouldn’t spend so much money to get no increase in vaccinations.

Other opponents argued that connecting bonuses with the vaccine at all is problematic, saying it “sends the wrong message.”

"Giving a bonus for something that everyone should be expected to do furthers the idea that getting vaccinated is a bonus, an extra thing,” said Councilman Jolon Clark, who voted “no” Tuesday. “I’ve been told by many of my constituents that Denver rewarding city employees for doing this right thing that they also did feels like a slap in the face.”

The full council will vote on the proposal on Oct. 18 and Oct. 25. If approved, vaccinated city employees would receive the $400 bonus on Nov. 26 and eligible exempt employees would receive it on Dec. 23.

On Tuesday, the council committee also approved a proposal to provide premium and hazard pay for career services and uniform city employees who worked in high-risk positions at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eligible employees must have worked between March and December 2020, been required to perform the eligible work and spent more than 50% of their work time having in-person interactions and/or handling items handled by others.

Employees would receive up to $250 for each month they met the eligibility requirements, which would be a maximum of $2,500 per employee over the 10-month period.

The payments would be funded federally by $8.8 million from the American Rescue Plan Act and $7.8 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, said Denver Chief Financial Officer Brendan Hanlon.

Hanlon said he estimates 4,273 career services employees and 3,170 uniform employees would be eligible for the premium and hazard pay.

The full council will also vote on this proposal on Oct. 18 and Oct. 25. If approved, the payments would be made to eligible employees on Nov. 5 or Nov. 19.

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