The nation's biggest supermarket operator has not issued an outright mandate for its workers, instead “modifying policies to encourage safe behaviors including vaccination.” The chain sent out a companywide memo announcing that beginning on January 1, it will take away paid leave for any unvaccinated employees who contract COVID-19. These workers will, however, be allowed to take paid time off that they have already earned.
In addition, it will require salaried nonunion employees who do not get the vaccine and who are enrolled in Kroger’s health insurance plan to pay a monthly $50 surcharge. Hourly and unionized workers will not have to pay the surcharge. Meanwhile, employees who are fully vaccinated will be eligible to receive paid COVID leave should they contract a "breakthrough" case. Kroger’s current benefit, which was put into place before vaccines were widely available, gives any workers who get sick with the virus up to two weeks of paid leave regardless of their vaccination status.
“We created and amended several workplace policies at the onset of the pandemic to support our associates during immense uncertainty,” a spokeswoman said in a statement. “The administration of the vaccine to our associates has been an integral part of our efforts and continues to be a focus.”
Kroger employs 465,000 workers in its nearly 2,800 stores throughout the nation. In addition to its Kroger stores, it operates regional supermarket chains across 35 states, including Ralphs, Smith’s, Harris Teeter, King Soopers, QFC, Mariano’s, Fred Meyer, Fry’s and others.
Although it is not known how many of the chain’s employees have been vaccinated, some observers have speculated that it is a significant enough portion that Kroger cannot afford to lose them by instituting a strict "no jab, no job" mandate. Apparently, many Kroger employees do not believe that the $100 payment that the company is offering people to get the jab is worth taking on the vaccine's many risks. However, by taking away paid leave for unvaccinated employees who get the virus, they are essentially encouraging workers to come into work while they are infected with COVID-19, which puts customers and other employees at risk whether they are vaccinated or not.
In response to the move, some people have said that they will no longer shop at Kroger or any of its affiliates.
Unfortunately, Kroger isn't the only company that has decided to charge its unvaccinated employees a fee for making choices about their bodies that their management disagrees with. In August, Delta Airlines announced that its unvaccinated staff will be charged $200 a month to “address the financial risk the decision to not vaccinate is creating for our company.” They also stopped extending pay protection to workers without the vaccine who contract the virus. The airline also requires unvaccinated workers to get weekly tests and to wear a mask in indoor company settings.
This month, Nevada became the first state in the nation to charge its state workers who are enrolled in public employee health insurance plans as much as $55 a month starting in July. The state estimates that around 5,000 state workers and 1,250 Nevada System of Higher Education employees are unvaccinated.
Unfortunately, we are probably going to see more and more moves like these as the pandemic continues – the same pandemic that these vaccines were supposed to put an end to. Perhaps if vaccines were developed that did not put people’s health at risk, offered true protection from the worst effects of the virus and actually stopped vaccinated individuals from transmitting it to others, people wouldn’t need incentives or threats to roll up their sleeves.
Sources for this article include: