Among our nation’s essential workers right now are those in grocery stores. As grocery shopping becomes one of the few regular outings, grocery store employees are on the front lines of exposure.
WABE has received reports from workers worried about their safety as grocery store companies scramble to put together a variety of procedures to protect their customers and employees. Some Atlanta-area grocers have evolved from initially preventing employees from wearing personal protective equipment because they didn’t want to scare customers, to trying to obtain the material for their employees.
But for an employee at a Publix north of Atlanta, it’s not enough. She has decided to take all of her paid vacation time in the hope that after two weeks, the store’s safety policies will get stronger.
“I have an immune-compromised family member. If it were just me, I’d be comfortable taking that risk,” she said. The employee asked we not use her full name.
“Until I have to come back to work, I don’t feel comfortable working until we have mandatory mask usage, limiting people in stores and overnight shelf-stocking shifts.”
Publix has “decided to allow those in select job classes who are not normally required to wear gloves and masks, the option to wear this personal protective equipment (PPE) for the duration of this national emergency,” said Publix Spokeswoman Nicole Krauss. She said the policy is a balance of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and “our associates’ personal comfort.”
The CDC now advises people to wear cloth masks “in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies).”
An employee at a Walmart in East Cobb who wished to remain anonymous is also worried. She’s a part-time employee, so she will not qualify for some of the coronavirus-related benefits her company is offering, like paid time off.
For a while, she said she was the only staff member choosing to wear a mask at work. Walmart announced it would distribute masks to each employee in late March, but a spokesman cautioned that the initiative would take about three weeks.
“There’s just no way that I can social distance when I’m working at a self-checkout,” she said. “And when I have to go over to somebody’s self-checkout to help them with produce or something. Or when somebody gives me their ID for buying alcohol. That’s direct contact with somebody.”
“There should be requirements for customers as well as employees to wear face masks and gloves and, just … treat everybody like they could be infected. That’s really all I ask,” she said.
How Do Atlanta’s Grocery Store Coronavirus Policies Compare?
This list has been consolidated from the information provided by the companies.
- Offering its associates the option to wear masks and gloves
- Offering paid leave for 14 days for any associate who tests positive for COVID-19 and for those who have been in close contact with positive cases
- Increased disinfecting of high-touch surfaces like door handles and computers
- Sanitizing stores with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases
- Installing plexiglass shields at registers and counters
- Adding signage and airing announcements to encourage social distancing in register lines and throughout the store
- Instituting one-way movement in all aisles
- Adjusting store hours for additional disinfection and shelf restocking
- Allowing employees to wear protective masks and gloves and “working hard” to procure them for employees
- Offering associates who are affected by COVID-19, whether experiencing symptoms and self-isolating, diagnosed or placed in quarantine, two weeks of paid leave
- Limiting the number of customers in a store to 50% of building code capacity
- Upping daily sanitation practices, with a focus on highly-used surfaces like cashier stations, self-checkouts, credit card terminals, food service counters and shelves
- Installing plexiglass partitions at registers and pharmacies
- Adding floor decals to promote physical distancing at check lanes and other counters
- Adjusting store hours for cleaning and restocking
- Quicker access for associates to their paychecks, as early as the day after their shift
- Providing face masks for all associates; announced in late March, a company spokesman points out it will take up to three weeks to implement this
- Making masks mandatory in communities with elevated cases, like New Orleans
- Offering associates with confirmed cases and associates at stores forced to quarantine two weeks of paid leave
- Waiving attendance occurrence policy through April for those who choose to stay home—must use regular paid time off options
- Checking employees’ temperatures as they show up for work
- Closing stores overnight to allow for restocking and cleaning
- One-way movement down aisles in some stores
- Installing plexiglass barriers at registers and pharmacies
- Limiting no more than five customers per 1,000 square feet in a store at a time, about 20 percent of a store’s capacity
- Using wipes and two-gallon sprayer kits to disinfect store carts
- Adding floor decals to promote social distancing at entrances and checkout lines
- Providing employees weekly access to their paychecks
- Providing all crew members with face masks and urging their usage; all employees already had gloves
- Offering two weeks of additional paid sick time to employees with any symptoms
- Paying an additional $2 per hour for employees working during the pandemic
- Limiting store hours for cleaning and restocking
- Increasing cleaning frequency particularly in high-touch areas
- Limiting the number of people in stores and keeping distance between customers waiting in checkout lines and outside the store
- Keeping every other register open; alternating open registers for regular cleanings
- Suspending the use of reusable bags
- Installing plexiglass barriers at registers
- Temporarily closing some stores related to COVID-19 concerns, including for additional precautionary cleaning and sanitization, paying those employees for their scheduled shifts.
- Distributing face masks and gloves to all employees at the beginning of each shift
- Offering team members diagnosed with COVID-19 or in quarantine two weeks of paid leave
- All part- and full-time employees, receive an extra $2 per hour in April
- Closing early for shelf restocking and cleaning
- Temporarily closing self-serve offerings including hot bars, salad bars, soup bars, in-store seating
- Upping cleanliness and sanitation protocols
- Additional hand sanitizer stations
- Suspending use of reusable containers at smoothie and coffee bars
Are you a grocery store employee worried about your safety at work? A shopper worried about your safety in the store? Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Engagement at WABE is powered, in part, by our collaboration with America Amplified, a Corporation for Public Broadcasting-funded initiative to use community engagement in our reporting.