Some Front-Line Grocery Workers Receive Extra Benefits During Pandemic

by Marissa Sheldon, MPH
Grocery workers
Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series

Policy name: COVID-19 benefits for grocery workers

Overview: Several grocery store chains are providing workers with pay raises and bonuses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Stores have also ramped up their health and safety protocols in order to protect employees and customers. 

Location: United States

Population: 330.5 million

Food policy category: Food service

Program goals: To show appreciation for front-line grocery store workers who are risking their health and safety to keep the public fed during a worldwide crisis.

How it works: 

  • Pay: 
  • Protection: Kroger, for example, is also adding the following protections:
    • Emergency paid leave so employees experiencing COVID-19 symptoms are able to fully and safely recover;
    • New cleaning and sanitizing protocols allowing employees to wash their hands and registers every 30 minutes; 
    • Decreased store hours to allow workers ample time to rest at home;
    • Plexiglass partitions at registers to reduce likelihood of transmitting respiratory droplets that may result in illness; 
    • Floor decals to promote social distancing among customers; and
    • Financial assistance for employees unable to work due to lack of childcare or because they are at high-risk for COVID-19. 

Progress to date: Whole Foods and Amazon announced temporary $2 per hour pay increases on March 17, 2020, while Trader Joe’s released a memo on the same date describing their plans to pay employees bonuses. Target and Albertsons Cos. stores made announcements on March 20 increasing hourly employees’ wages by $2 per hour. Sheetz, Kroger, Walmart, Costco, Ralphs, and others followed suit soon after.  

Why it is important: During the COVID-19 pandemic, most Americans are being urged to stay home as much as possible and enter public spaces only for essential activities, including grocery shopping. Grocery workers are among the employees considered “essential” during this crisis, and they do not have the luxury of being able to complete their work from home. They are going to work, risking their own health and safety as well as that of their families by coming in contact with hundreds of people every day. They are on their feet for long hours, monitoring the number of customers coming in and out of the store to ensure safe social distancing practices, working the cash registers to ensure that customers are able to leave the store quickly, and restocking shelves to maintain customer satisfaction and peace of mind. 

Pay raises, bonuses, and added protections at work are necessary to show these essential workers the appreciation they deserve and to incentivize them to keep working, so that the general public can continue to obtain the groceries they need. 

Program/Policy initiated: Stores began providing increases in hourly wages, bonuses, and/or added protections in March 2020. The benefits will remain in place for varying lengths of time, depending on the retailer and demands of the pandemic. 

Point of contact: N/A

Similar practices: Other food companies, including Tyson, Cargill, Hormel Foods, Inc., and Maple Leaf Foods, Inc., are also providing temporary wage increases or bonuses to their employers. 

Evaluation: Formal evaluation has not been conducted to date. Some workers are still demanding a greater increase in pay and better working conditions

Learn more:


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