Kroger Giving Employees $25 Gift Cards, Two Week Paid Leave To Those Impacted By Coronavirus

As coronavirus spreads across the U.S., major supermarket chain Kroger will give all employees a $25 gift card to assist with buying groceries or other items.

Attention was first brought to Kroger's move by Judd Legum, founder of the now-defunct site ThinkProgress. Legum tweeted out the move being made by Kroger: "UPDATE: Kroger, the largest supermarket chain in the US, is still not providing all its workers with paid sick leave. Instead, everyone is getting a 25 DOLLAR Kroger gift card."

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The image included in his tweet is that of a document with the header "Sonya's Blog" that features what looks like a signature bearing the name of Sonya Hostetler, the divisional president for the Nashville division. Hostetler oversees 91 stores for The Kroger Co. in middle and eastern Tennessee, southern Kentucky and north Alabama.

"To show how much Kroger appreciates and acknowledges you, every associate in the company will receive $25 towards groceries on their Kroger loyalty card effective, March 17," the document states. "This credit will be valid for 60 days. Even though this is a small gesture, we want you to realize how valuable you are to our organization, our customers, and our communities. We couldn't operate or continue to provide fresh food without you."

Kristal Howard, the head of media relations and corporate communications at The Kroger Co., told Newsweek via email that the company is offering two weeks of paid leave for all employees who test positive or are quarantined amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

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"We created a new policy last week allowing paid time off for associates diagnosed with or placed under quarantine due to COVID-19. All eligible associates will receive their standard pay for up to two weeks. We are asking our associates to closely monitor their health and to stay home if they, or someone in their household, are sick," Howard stated.

The policy, shared by Kroger with Newsweek, states in part, "We understand that you may have questions regarding your coverage if you or someone in your household or immediate family becomes ill. Effective immediately, the Kroger Family of Companies is enacting the Emergency Leave Guidelines policy, allowing paid time off for Associates diagnosed with COVID-19 and for Associates placed under mandatory quarantine by their medical provider or by a public health authority because of COVID-19."

The policy also says that if employees cannot return to work after two weeks "additional paid time off may be available through your Short-Term Disability (STD) benefit."

The two-week paid sick leave is available to all employees for Kroger and their banner stores, even those employees who are recent hires and currently undergoing the 90-day probationary period.

During attempts to verify corporate policy at brick and mortar stores, management referred Newsweek to corporate or regional communications offices.

In a response to Newsweek, Legum disputed Kroger's policy, writing, "They [are] offering two weeks of paid leave to people who test positive for COVID-10 OR are formally ordered to quarantine. What about that policy makes you think it's available to 'associates who need it?'"

Howard's email to Newsweek also said that the company is making additional resources available "through Kroger's Helping Hands fund – a company-sponsored fund that provides financial assistance to associates who are experiencing a financial hardship due to an unexpected or emergency situation – for those affected by COVID-19. By providing financial assistance, we hope those facing this unexpected hardship will have greater freedom to focus on their recovery."

Howard added that Legum's perspective serves "to divide people at a time when we should all be pulling together to manage this public health crisis" and that the company is investing $11 million in its associates with the gift card program. The Kroger Co. employs an estimated 500,000 people in the U.S.

According to Kroger's website, the company's adjusted net earnings were $1.65 billion in 2019. Their total revenue for 2019 was over $122 billion.

The company has approximately 2,757 stores in 35 states.

03/18, 11:20 a.m.: This story has been updated to include a response from Legum, the policy on paid leave, and that Newsweek contacted Kroger stores.

The Kroger Co. Corporate Headquarters
CINCINNATI - JULY 15: A sign identifies the Kroger Co. corporate headquarters July 15, 2008 in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio. Kroger is one of the nation's largest grocery retailers, with fiscal 2007 sales of over $70 billion. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images) Scott Olson/Getty
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