UPDATE: March 21 ― Kroger announced Saturday that it has expanded its COVID-19 emergency leave guidelines to “include paid time off for self-isolation and symptoms as verified by an accredited health care professional.”
Additionally, it indicated that it would give a bonus to every hourly front-line grocery, supply chain, manufacturing and customer service associate, amounting to $300 for every full-time associate and $150 for every part-time associate.
Kroger, the country’s largest supermarket chain, is reportedly not giving all of its workers paid sick leave amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The company, which owns more than 2,500 supermarkets and employs 453,000 people, provides paid sick leave after a year of employment, according to the political newsletter Popular Information.
Several Kroger employees told Popular Information that due to that policy, they wouldn’t be paid for work they missed due to illness ― which all but ensures they’d go to work sick.
Site runner Judd Legum tweeted on Tuesday that the company would, however, be providing every associate with a $25 gift card to “show how much Kroger appreciates and acknowledges you.”
In response to Popular Information’s reporting, Kroger told HuffPost that “this perspective only serves to divide people at a time when we should all be pulling together to manage this public health crisis.”
“Right now, grocery workers are on the front-lines ensuring Americans have the food and products they need,” said Kristal Howard, head of corporate communications and media relations for the brand, in an email.
Howard says Kroger “created a new policy last week allowing paid time off for associates diagnosed with or placed under quarantine due to COVID-19” and that “all eligible associates will receive their standard pay for up to two weeks (14 days).”
Kroger is also asking employees to monitor their health and imploring them to stay home if they’re sick — even though a portion of employees would not be paid if they did that.
Howard verified that “as a small token of our appreciation every associate in the company is receiving an extra $25 of groceries on us, loaded to their loyalty cards.”
“While this is just a small gesture, we hope our associates realize the tremendous value they bring not only to our organization but also to our customers. We could not be weathering this storm without them,” she said.
Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen thanked his employees in an impassioned video shared on Twitter on Tuesday.
“I want to thank our incredible associates who are working so incredibly hard today,” says McMullen before adding: “They’re providing incredible, amazing service under very difficult circumstances.”
On Monday, McMullen released a statement that two grocery store associates from its King Soopers and Fred Meyer chains had been diagnosed with COVID-19.
“Both associates are receiving medical care and are recovering. We are supporting them and wish them all the best in their recovery,” he said in a March 14 memo to employees.
“Upon learning of these cases, we partnered with state and local health experts, followed all sanitation and cleaning procedures, communicated with and supported our store teams, and with the support of the state governments, the stores remain open,” the statement read. “We will continue to follow guidance from local, state and federal agencies, including the CDC and other health organizations.”
Many of the country’s 159 million workers are facing dire financial circumstances in light of the coronavirus pandemic. On Saturday, the House passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which “aims to give paid leave to workers who did not have it and extend paid leave for workers who only got a few days,” according to The Washington Post.
The benefits apply to workers stuck at home because of the coronavirus, but companies like Kroger with more than 500 employees are excluded from the bill. As the Post says, “these employees will have to rely on the policies of the companies they work for.”