Some Kroger Employees Without COVID Vaccine to Pay $50 a Month Surcharge On Health Plan

The grocery chain Kroger announced a change in benefits for unvaccinated employees as COVID-19 cases are rising. Starting at the beginning of 2022, some workers will be required to pay an additional monthly amount for their company health insurance plan.

Starting January 1, unvaccinated managers and non-union workers will pay an extra $50 a month for their insurance, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The additional monthly charge only applies to salaried employees enrolled in the company healthcare plan. Employees who work hourly and have the company health care plan will not be affected.

Additionally, unvaccinated workers will no longer be able to take two weeks of emergency paid sick leave if they become infected with COVID-19, a company spokesperson confirmed to the Associated Press on Tuesday.

Kroger will provide a "special" leave for fully vaccinated employees only, the company said in an email. However, there will still be several alternate choices for unvaccinated employees who become infected with COVID-19. Workers can earn paid time off and apply for unpaid leave.

Starting last year, Kroger offered emergency leave with two weeks of paid time off when someone was diagnosed with COVID-19. All employees, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, could get paid. The policy was put in place when vaccines weren't widely available.

Kroger, Unvaxxed, Employees
Kroger said on December 14, 2021, that it is modifying some of its COVID-19 policies. Unvaccinated workers will no longer receive certain COVID-19 leave benefits if they get the virus, and some who refuse the shot will have to pay a monthly health insurance surcharge. Above, a shopper loads his car with groceries at the Kroger in Novi, Michigan, on January 23, 2021. Nic Antaya/Detroit News/AP Photo

As Kroger, the country's biggest traditional grocery chain, modifies some of its policies, the company said that it will continue to encourage workers to get vaccinated with $100 payments given to all fully vaccinated employees.

The Journal, which viewed a company memo outlining the changes, said that the leave and health insurance surcharge policies are effective in the new year, just over two weeks away. Associates covered by a collective bargaining agreement will also not be affected by the new surcharge policy.

Kroger employs almost a half million people who interact with as many as 9 million customers daily.

While President Joe Biden's vaccine mandate is facing legal opposition, many companies are still trying to get as many of their employees vaccinated as possible. It is legal for businesses to require the vaccines, and they could fire employees who don't comply.

In other cases, workers might be required to wear masks or get regular tests for the virus. Companies are also allowed to withhold perks or charge extra for health insurance for workers who refuse shots.

Kroger is not the first company to steer clear of an outright mandate, instead trying to influence employees through company-sponsored health plans.

Delta Airlines announced it August that it would charge employees on the company health plan $200 a month if they fail to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The airline also said at the time that it would stop extending pay protection to unvaccinated workers who contract COVID-19 on September 30, and would require unvaccinated workers to be tested weekly beginning September 12, although Delta will cover the cost. Unvaccinated employees also have to wear masks in all indoor company settings.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.