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Kroger retracts demand that workers return extra COVID-19 pay

Lifelines in the Lockdown

Kroger has had a change of heart over what it recently deemed "overpayments" to quarantined workers on COVID-19 emergency leave. The nation's biggest supermarket chain is reversing its previous demand that the employees repay the extra money or face the wrath of bill collectors. 

The snafu is the latest public relations hit for a company already under fire for yanking its so-called "hero bonus" of two bucks more an hour for its more than 500,000 employees working on the front lines of the pandemic. Some Kroger employees are also distressed that the retailer isn't doing all they say it can to protect them, including requiring that all customers wear face masks in all Kroger-owned stores no matter what local health regulations do or don't require. 

The company isn't disclosing how many workers received the additional pay, saying only that it involved associates paid to remain at home after reporting coronavirus symptoms, testing positive for COVID-19 or who were otherwise quarantined. 

"This was an unfortunate payroll accounting error. We've since instructed our payroll department to directly inform the small number of associates affected by the recent overpayments of COVID-19 Emergency Leave pay that we will not seek repayment," a spokesperson for Kroger said in an email to CBS MoneyWatch.

The reversal came following unwanted attention on social media after photos of company letters sent to the workers involved were posted on social media, with the missives stating in bold that "Failure to repay the overpayment could result in further collection efforts."

Of the 3 million grocery workers nationwide, nearly 10,000 have become sick or tested positive for the virus, and at least 65 have died from the coronavirus disease, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers. 

Kroger recently added more than 100,000 employees to its workforce of more than 460,000 amid a nationwide crush of supermarket shopping. The company operates more than 2,700 stores under a number of retail banners in 35 states.

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