CINCINNATI (Enquirer) - In another flap concerning worker pay during the new coronavirus pandemic, Kroger says it overpaid “a small number of associates,” demanded repayment and has now decided to let the employees keep the extra money, according to our media partners at the Enquirer.
Kroger officials wouldn't say how many workers got extra pay or where they worked but said the employees in question were associates that were paid to stay home after falling ill with coronavirus symptoms, testing positive for COVID-19 virus or were otherwise quarantined.
"We’ve instructed our payroll department to directly inform the small number of associates affected by the recent overpayments of Emergency Leave of Absence pay that we will not seek repayment," a Kroger spokesman said Tuesday.
The about-face comes amid outrage on social media after images of some harshly-worded collection letters were sent to the employees in question – presumably, some that were very ill or very concerned for their health at the time.
"Failure to repay the overpayment could result in further collection efforts," is bolded in a letter on Kroger stationary.
Kroger officials didn’t exactly apologize, but when pressed by The Enquirer they acknowledged the latest incident was “an unfortunate payroll accounting error” and repeated they wouldn’t seek repayment.
This all comes amid rising tension with Kroger's union, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), over the tenuous status of hazard pay.
Like many retailers, Kroger has heaped praise on its workers, dubbing them "heroes" for braving greater viral exposure risks by continuing to serve customers amid the pandemic.
Besides Kroger stores, the grocer operates several regional supermarket chains in 35 states, including Fred Meyer, Harris Teeter, Ralphs, Mariano's, Fry's, Smith's, King Soopers, QFC and others. The company has nearly 2,800 stores and employs 540,000 workers.
Nationwide, UFCW International estimates show that at least 65 grocery workers have died at Kroger and other retailers, and at least 9,810 have been infected or exposed to the deadly virus.
Last week, Kroger ended a bonus pay program it called “hero pay,” but on Friday it unveiled a new bonus pay it dubbed “Thank You pay” that lasts into June.