Kroger responds to backlash after demanding repayment from workers

Poor old Kroger, they just can't put a foot right these days. Okay, so initially offering their workers a $2 per hour "hero pay" increase as the pandemic turned shopping into the most dangerous game in town was a very good thing, as was their attempt to get the government to recognize grocery store workers as emergency personnel. Taking measures to enforce social distancing in their stores was also the right thing to do, and offering free COVID-19 testing to store employees seems only fair, since some of them have actually died from the virus contracted while performing their job duties.

Still, it seems like lately Kroger has had more than its share of highly-publicized blunders and downright public relations disasters. Taking away that hero pay when the pandemic itself is still very much with us? Not cool. Then that lame offer of a one-time "thank you pay" bonus to the newly-dethroned "hero workers"? Nice, but not nearly enough. Their most recent eyebrow-raising decision was one of their worst ones yet: deciding they'd been overly generous with some of that promised "hero pay" and demanding that certain employees pay back what they'd been given.

How Kroger's repayment request played out

According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Kroger determined that "a small number of associates" (Salon theorizes there were around 30 in all) had been overpaid, all of these associates having been on paid leave after being mandatorily quarantined due to testing positive for COVID-19 and/or becoming ill with the virus. These employees (who had hopefully recovered from their illness before being subject to this new shock) were then sent a letter insisting on immediate repayment. The letter, which some recipients then posted on Twitter and other social media sites, was rather harsh in its language, warning in bold type that "Failure to repay the overpayment could result in further collection efforts." Um, nice one, Kroger. Threatening to sic collections agents on workers who just last week you'd been lauding in a press release as having done such "incredible work during this historic time... feeding America while also helping to flatten the curve during the initial phases of the pandemic." Pat them on the back with one hand, pick their pockets with the other? Not a real good look.

After the United Food and Commercial Workers union became involved — and also the court of public opinion — Kroger quickly reversed their latest bad decision, shrugging it off as an "an unfortunate payroll accounting error" and dropping any attempt to enforce repayment. Good move –- but an even better one would be to consider the consequences before the next attempt to disrespect their employees.