Lidl will provide a package of health care benefits specific to the coronavirus at no cost to as many 1,000 new employees it is looking to hire to work in its stores and distribution centers, according to a press release. The company will add the benefits to current workers who are covered by insurance plans sponsored by the supermarket operator.
The grocery chain worked with CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield to develop the benefits, which will cover testing for COVID-19 and medical care related to infections caused by the virus for people without health insurance. Employees will be eligible for the benefit, which Lidl is describing as a first for the grocery industry, as soon as they begin work.
Lidl’s announcement comes as grocery store operators are enhancing their employee benefits and instituting policies designed to protect workers in their stores from the highly contagious virus. Many food retailers, including Lidl, have announced they will pay employees who contract the virus or are quarantined because of the outbreak at their standard rate for up to 14 days.
Lidl’s decision reflects a trend among retailers to improve compensation packages for people who work in their stores, warehouses and other facilities. Grocers have stepped up those efforts since the outbreak began as they strive to demonstrate their commitment to employee well-being at a time when supermarkets are recruiting thousands of workers and have assumed an outsized role in people’s daily lives.
Lidl, which announced last October that it would offer medical to workers regardless of how many hours they work, could score points with potential employees with its offer to provide benefits that could protect them if they are affected by the virus even if they don’t have health insurance.
With grocery store workers providing an essential service as millions of Americas are confined to their homes, steps like the one Lidl has taken are serving a public health purpose even as stores use them to attract workers. Efforts to contain the virus are likely to be less effective if people opt not to seek medical care due to concerns about the cost, notes the Kaiser Family Foundation, which focuses on health care policy.
Supermarket companies have been under pressure from labor organizations to provide workers with stronger benefits amid the coronavirus pandemic. The United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400, which represents grocery and other workers along the East Coast, noted that many grocery industry employees work in stores that “have been overrun by shoppers,” which it said makes it essential for chains to take action.
State authorities have begun to take action, with Vermont, Minnesota and Michigan recently classifying grocery employees as emergency workers, a designation that provides free childcare to associates, among other measures. Other states, including California, are exploring a similar step.
In addition to offering expanded sick leave policies due to the pandemic, grocers have been providing workers with bonuses and temporary pay increases. Chains including Schnucks, Walmart, H-E-B, Albertsons and The Giant Company have boosted pay by $2 per hour, while others have provided smaller increases.