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Kroger grocery chain to end paid COVID-19 leave for unvaccinated employees

The country’s largest traditional grocery store chain, with almost 500,000 employees, said vaccinations are a focus for the company.
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Customers shop at the produce section of a Kroger Marketplace in Versailles, Ky.Scotty Perry / Bloomberg via Getty Images
/ Source: NBC News

Kroger, the country’s largest traditional grocery store company, will end special paid COVID-19 leave for unvaccinated employees and will charge some of them $50 a month if they remain unprotected, the company said Tuesday.

The Wall Street Journal earlier Tuesday reported the changes in policy for the Cincinnati-based company, which has stores in 35 states.

Kroger said unvaccinated workers who get COVID-19 will no longer be eligible for special paid leave that it put in place last year. The paid leave will still be offered to vaccinated workers who get breakthrough cases.

Salaried workers who are unvaccinated and who are in a company health care plan will also be charged a $50 “monthly health insurance surcharge” starting Jan. 1.

“We created and amended several workplace policies at the onset of the pandemic to support our associates during immense uncertainty,” Kroger said in a statement. “The administration of the vaccine to our associates has been an integral part of our efforts and continues to be a focus.”

The company has not said how many of its employees are fully vaccinated, and it would not disclose the number Tuesday.

Kroger has nearly 500,000 employees in all, with brands that also include Ralphs, King Soopers and Fred Meyer.

Businesses are emerging from the serious disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which are still being felt. The U.S. recently passed 800,000 deaths from the disease, and increases in case numbers continue to be driven by the delta variant of the coronavirus, even as a new variant, omicron, is increasingly being found.

Companies have been trying to encourage their employees to get vaccinated. Some have required certain workers to be vaccinated, and others have said the unvaccinated cannot return to the office.

Delta Air Lines said in August that unvaccinated employees’ health insurance premiums would increase by $200 a month. CEO Ed Bastian cited the high cost of covering workers who are hospitalized from the disease.

MGM Resorts International, known for its Las Vegas casinos and hotels like the Bellagio and the MGM Grand, said unvaccinated workers would have to pay $15 copays for on-site testing or pay for their own tests.

A number of companies, including Kroger, also began paying workers bonuses for getting vaccinated. The company had around 465,000 employees at the end of last year, a spokesperson said.

The issue of vaccination mandates from the government has been contentious.

Courts have blocked some of President Joe Biden’s rules for vaccinations. A federal judge issued a nationwide injunction this month against a vaccination mandate for federal contractors.

Kroger is acting on its own as a business, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday when she was asked about it. The change is “not a policy we’re putting out there from the federal government,” she said.

Some states have required vaccinations for some workers, like health care workers.

The Supreme Court declined Monday to block New York’s vaccination mandate for health care workers as legal challenges play out.

The court has also turned down other challenges to vaccination mandates from students at Indiana University, teachers in New York and health care workers in Maine and Massachusetts.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a vaccination mandate for private-sector workers last week.

This story first appeared on NBCNews.com.