But Dollar General announced this week that it will pay employees the equivalent of four hours of work or, if they are salaried additional store labor hours to be inoculated – raising the industry bar for employee welfare at a time when hundreds of frontline food workers and grocery workers have died from COVID-19 and tens of thousands more have been infected or exposed to the virus.
“Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the health and safety of our employees, customers and local communities have remained our top priority. … We want to be on the forefront of facilitating our employees’ ability to receive the COVID-19 vaccine if they so choose – and we encourage all our team to receive the vaccine when it’s available to them,” Dollar General said in statement announcing its intentions.
This means lowering any barriers that employees may face to obtaining the vaccine, including childcare and transportation costs, the retailer added.
“We do not have an on-site pharmacy and currently do not have systems in place for employees to receive a vaccine at their work site. We do not want our employees to have to choose between receiving a vaccine or coming to work, so we are working to remove barriers,” the retailer explained.
This is not the first time that Dollar General has trailblazed safety measures during the pandemic. The retailer takes credit as one of the first banners to restrict shopping during the first hour of operations to seniors to “ensure appropriate distancing and the most well-recovered and well-stocked store possible to some of our most vulnerable neighbors.”
Like many other retailers, Dollar General also offered appreciation bonuses to its employees last year, invested in personal protective equipment, paid sick leave and other health and safety benefits.
While the retailer is financially incentivizing employees to be vaccinated, it is not requiring they do so – citing the decision to receive the vaccine as a “personal choice.” Many other grocery retailers are following suit and not requiring the vaccine, even though legally employers can require a COVID-19 vaccine within certain parameters, according to the emergency use authorization issued by FDA.
Any push to mandate the vaccine would need to consider where in the roll-out process each state is. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Priority confirmed Dec. 20 that frontline food workers, including grocery workers, are allowed the vaccine under Phase 1b of the COVID-19 vaccination program. Phase 1a gives first priority to healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities.
The inclusion of grocery employees and frontline food workers came after aggressive lobbying by the industry, which noted the potentially lethal risks posed by interacting with potentially hundreds and thousands of people a day while providing an essential service.
As of late December, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union reported at least 363 frontline food workers, 116 grocery workers and 130 meatpacking workers had died from COVID-19. An additional 63,000 frontline workers, 20,750 grocery workers and 20,600 meatpacking workers had been infected or exposed.