Kroger, the national supermarket operator and one of the nation’s largest retailers, has restructured its Covid-19 benefits for unvaccinated employees and will charge some of them if they remain unprotected, a spokeswoman for the company confirmed on Wednesday.
Last year, before coronavirus vaccines were available, the company began offering two weeks of paid time off to employees who contracted Covid-19. Kroger told employees last week that, beginning Jan. 1, that benefit would no longer be available to people who were unvaccinated, the spokeswoman said. The news was reported by The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.
Unvaccinated employees will still be eligible for other forms of leave, but the special time off will now be open only to fully vaccinated employees.
Kroger also said it would charge salaried workers who are enrolled in a company health care plan $50 a month if they remained unvaccinated. That surcharge would not apply to unionized workers and hourly-wage associates enrolled in a company health care plan.
“We created and amended several workplace policies at the onset of the pandemic to support our associates during immense uncertainty,” the 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.”
It was unclear how many of Kroger’s approximately 500,000 employees have been vaccinated.
Earlier this year, Kroger said it would give a one-time payment of $100 to all associates who received the Covid-19 vaccine, joining a wave of companies, cities and states in offering similar incentives. Kroger said it would continue that program.
In September, the Biden administration issued three vaccine mandates, one for federal contractors, another for health care workers, and a third for companies with more than 100 employees. All three of the mandates affecting the private sector have been put on hold by courts because of legal challenges.
Employers and governors, mostly in Republican states, have opposed President Biden’s mandates that employees of large companies must either be vaccinated or get tested weekly, arguing that it was overreach.
When asked about Kroger’s new policies, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said during a news briefing on Tuesday, “We know different private sector companies and entities are going to take different steps to incentivize people to get vaccinated, to keep their employees safe and their work force safe.” She stressed that the company’s new policy did not come from the federal government.
Kroger, which was founded in 1883 and is based in Cincinnati, operates more than 2,500 stores in 35 states and the District of Columbia under a number of brand names, according to its website.