Kroger's Unvaccinated Employees Will Soon Lose These Benefits

As of this writing, some 800,000 Americans have died of the COVID-19, the disease brought on by the SARS-COV-2 virus. The majority of these deaths occurred in unvaccinated individuals (per CDC).

Public health experts have emphasized the crucial role of vaccines in mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic. Upcoming OSHA vaccine and testing mandates for employees of companies with 100 or more workers (per White House) will boost the number of vaccinated Americans, but one company is further nudging its employees toward vaccination by removing one of the benefits of employment for those who remain unvaxxed.

According to TODAY Food, at Kroger, the country's largest national grocery chain (per Statista), unvaccinated workers have lost their ability to take two weeks of paid emergency leave in the event they contract COVID-19, a benefit currently available to all full-time employees of the company. Kroger instituted its paid COVID leave policy last year before vaccines were made available.

Some Kroger employees who remain unvaccinated will also see less take-home pay in the new year. The Cincinnati-based corporation will institute a monthly $50 monthly surcharge to unvaccinated employees who participate in the Kroger health plan. However, only salaried employees will be charged. Unionized workers and non-union hourly workers will not be subject to the charge, according to US News & World Report. Sixty-six percent of the company's nearly 500,000 employees are in a union, and Kroger hasn't disclosed how many of them aren't vaccinated.

Kroger's vaccination policy dredges up controversy

Kroger's new policies come three months after the chain reinstituted a mandatory mask policy for all workers, even vaccinated employees. Even before the Omicron variant began its rapid spread across the U.S. (via Washington Post), many companies were trying to get as many employees as possible vaccinated before OSHA vaccine mandates kick in next month. Kroger incentivizes its workers to receive COVID-19 vaccines by offering a $100 bonus for doing so.

The changes to Kroger's emergency leave policy received some high-profile attention. Former Surgeon General Jerome Adams tweeted, "We're going to see more of this from companies ... Businesses are increasingly viewing unvaxxed as a workplace liability." (Last summer, Tyson Foods instituted a vaccine mandate for workers.) CNBC's tweet about the changes elicited hundreds of responses both in favor and against the policy. Followers' comments ranged from "Good. A company should be able to protect its workers and promote productivity" to "That would be my last day working there."

Asked about Kroger during the White House press briefing on December 14, press secretary Jen Psaki said that "different private sector companies and entities are going to take different steps to incentivize people to get vaccinated," adding that it's "not a policy we're putting out there from the federal government." Currently, approximately 61% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated (via Mayo Clinic). Time will tell if new policies like Kroger's will change the minds of those who are still unvaccinated.