To spur COVID-19 vaccinations in its workforce, The Kroger Co. is instituting benefits changes for employees who haven’t yet received the vaccine.
Cincinnati-based Kroger said in a company memo last week that unvaccinated employees who become ill with COVID will no longer be eligible for two weeks of paid emergency leave starting Jan. 1. Also as of that date, salaried employees enrolled in a company health care benefits plan who aren’t vaccinated against COVID will be assessed a $50 monthly surcharge for their coverage.
“We have been navigating the COVID-19 pandemic for almost two years and, in line with our values, the safety of our associates and customers has remained our top priority,” Kroger said in an email statement on Tuesday. “To accomplish this, we created and amended several workplace policies at the onset of the pandemic to support our associates during immense uncertainty. The administration of the vaccine to our associates has been an integral part of our efforts and continues to be a focus. As we prepare to navigate the next phase of the pandemic, we are modifying policies to encourage safe behaviors, including vaccination.”
News of Kroger’s benefits changes for unvaccinated staff were first reported by The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday morning. In its email to Supermarket News, Kroger noted that fully vaccinated associates with breakthrough COVID-19 cases remain eligible for a variety of forms of leave, including earned paid time off and the ability to apply for unpaid leave, including the special COVID leave.
In addition, Kroger said the $50 monthly surcharge on health benefits won’t apply to hourly workers enrolled in company health coverage or those covered by a collective bargaining agreement.
Kroger’s benefits adjustments for unvaccinated employees come amid a surge in COVID-19 cases around the country, including the recently detected Omicron variant. Though Omicron’s transmissibility and severity are still being studied, at least 43 cases have been reported so far in 22 states since the first confirmed U.S. case surfaced on Dec. 1, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Federal and state health authorities have said booster shots following a full COVID vaccination should provide good protection against the Omicron variant.
Since February, Kroger has offered employees a $100 payment as an incentive for receiving a full COVID-19 vaccination. The company also has provided its workforce with free COVID-19 testing and vaccines, as well as a range of other health, wellness and financial benefits related to the pandemic.
Yesterday, the United States topped the 50-million mark for COVID-19 cases. Through mid-morning on Tuesday, the nation totaled more than 50.13 million COVID cases and nearly 798,900 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. UFCW reported that the Delta variant is now driving a spike in cases in 39 states. As of Dec. 13, 60.9% of the U.S. population was fully vaccinated against COVID, and 72.1% had received at least one dose, the CDC reported.