Kroger Just Announced a Major New Vaccination Policy, Starting Jan. 1
The popular supermarket chain has revealed new rules for the unvaccinated.
The COVID pandemic has ebbed and flowed over the last two years—and with it, the precautions and policies put in place to slow the spread of the virus. In the past several months, vaccine mandates have been a major area of focus, with a number of cities barring unvaccinated people from entering indoor establishments or attending certain events. For their part, corporations have enacted separate rules for workers and customers, whether to encourage employees to get vaccinated or to prevent shoppers who haven't gotten a COVID shot from entering stores without masks. Now, supermarket chain Kroger has announced a major new vaccination policy of its own.
On Dec. 14, The Wall Street Journal reported that Kroger told employees last week it would no longer offer paid emergency leave to unvaccinated employees who contract COVID, as of Jan. 1. Furthermore, all unvaccinated managers and nonunion employees will have an extra $50 added to their monthly health plan costs.
This move is not the first time the supermarket giant has pushed employees toward vaccination. In February, Kroger announced in a press release that employees could earn a one-time payment of $100 for getting vaccinated. That policy is still in place, per The Wall Street Journal, but starting next month, there may be a financial penalty for not getting the shot.
According to the newspaper, a spokesperson for Kroger said the new vaccination rules are being implemented "to encourage safe behaviors as it prepares to navigate the next phase of the pandemic … The changes are designed to create a healthier workplace and workforce." But The Wall Street Journal notes that the policy is also being implemented in advance of the federal vaccine mandate issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is set to go into effect Jan. 4.
Per the mandate, businesses with 100 employees or more are required to make sure that employees are fully vaccinated or take weekly COVID tests. However, a number of legal challenges have left the future of the mandate up in the air, according to the National Law Review.
In the meantime, Kroger will be moving forward with its 2022 vaccination policy. The $50 surcharge will not be applied to hourly or unionized employees, the latter of which accounts for 66 percent of Kroger workers, according to The Wall Street Journal. The removal of emergency paid sick leave for COVID will apply to all unvaccinated employees, however, except those with approved religious or medical exemptions.
Molly Kinder, a fellow at the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program, told the newspaper that she believes that the penalties of Kroger's policy could encourage holdouts to get vaccinated, but that there are potential consequences. Without paid sick leave for COVID, unvaccinated employees might come into work sick because they can't afford to take time off. "We are almost two years into the pandemic, but we are not out of the woods," she warned.