Kroger Pulls Paid COVID Leave Benefits for Unvaccinated Workers

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

December 15, 2021

One of the nation's largest employers, the supermarket chain Kroger, has announced that it will no longer provide paid emergency COVID leave for unvaccinated employees, effective January 1, 2022.

Kroger also will add a $50 monthly surcharge for salaried employees enrolled in a company healthcare plan who remain unvaccinated.

Earlier this year, the Cincinnati, Ohio-based Kroger announced it would give a one-time payment of $100 to all of its associates who received the full recommended doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and presented appropriate proof of vaccination to their HR representative, joining a wave of companies, states and cities offering similar incentives. The company has said these payments will continue.

In August, Delta Air Lines announced it would begin charging a $200 monthly surcharge on employees enrolled in the company's healthcare plan who have not been vaccinated. Delta's CEO called the surcharge a necessary step to address the financial risk that employees' decisions to remain unvaccinated create for the airline, noting the average hospital stay for COVID-19 costs $50,000 per person.

While a number of states have been placing limits on employer vaccine mandates recently, no federal law requires that employers provide group health care coverage to all employees under the same terms and conditions. As a result, surcharges like those imposed by Kroger and Delta likely would survive legal challenges.

Guidance issued this fall by the Department of Labor (DOL), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Treasury Department stated that employers can incentivize employees by offering discounts on monthly insurance premiums for those who are vaccinated for COVID-19 or impose surcharges on those who choose not to be vaccinated (for reasons other than a medical condition).