Kroger Co will stop some COVID-19 benefits for unvaccinated employees starting next year, as the supermarket chain pushes more workers to get inoculated amid growing concerns over the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
The company will no longer provide paid COVID-19 leave for unvaccinated employees and will apply a $50 monthly health insurance surcharge to salaried non-union workers who are unvaccinated and enrolled in a company healthcare plan, a Kroger spokesperson said on Tuesday.
Companies have tried other means to get their employees vaccinated, such as educational campaigns and incentive programs, but they did not see the desired results, Wade Symons, regulatory resources group leader at benefits company Mercer told Reuters.
"I think employers sort of see hitting employees in the wallet as a true motivator that ... should increase vaccination levels."
Kroger, among the biggest private employers in the United States, had about 465,000 full and part-time workers as of 31 January, according to a regulatory filing.
Concerns over the new Omicron variant could cause a jump in crowds at Kroger stores in the coming weeks as consumers look to stock up on goods and household essentials, analysts have said.
Kroger is encouraging shoppers "to only buy what they need," the company said earlier this month.
The push to get more employees vaccinated comes as US President Joe Biden faces setbacks in implementing his vaccine-or-test mandate for private businesses.
Employees that are unvaccinated potentially can cost the employer more in health insurance costs, Symons said.
"So if I'm an employer that is self insured and pays the claims for my health insurance, and I have employees that are unvaccinated and have the potential, not only to get COVID-19 themselves, but also potentially to affect others ... I want to have them pay more to try to offset some of those costs."
Recently, Kroger raised full-year sales and profit forecasts, boosted by a sustained demand for groceries as the pandemic-induced boom in at-home cooking persists.