News Oct 25, 2020 08:33 AM EDT

Grocery Chains Fined For Allegedly Endangering Employees amid COVID-19 Pandemic

By Madz D.

Five grocery stores were fined after allegedly putting their employees in danger of contracting COVID-19.

On Wednesday, workplace safety officials in California announced that they fined five grocery chains for putting workers in danger of contracting the virus, wherein workers from two of those chains died of the coronavirus. 

Grocery Chains Fined For Alleged Endangering Employees amid COVID-19 Pandemic
(Photo : David McNew/Getty Images)
Los Angeles Area Stores Hand Out Reusable Grocery Bags Ahead Of Earth Day LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 21: Food 4 Less grocery store general clerk Xochil Montenegro (R) hands out a free reusable shopping bag, supplied by the California Grocers Association (CGA) and the City of Los Angeles, to customer Jesus Rios in observance of Earth Day, on the eve of Earth Day, April 21, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. During the two-day program, 50,000 bags are being handed out at about 40 grocery stores to encourage consumers to use reusable bags instead of disposable plastic or paper bags. The use of reusable bag has increased since a statewide plastic bag recycling law was enacted in July 2007 requiring grocers to provide in-store plastic bag recycling and to sell reusable shopping bags. Some communities have banned disposable plastic grocery bags. The free bags provided by the CGA and the city are made of 100% recycled water, soda and food containers.

A Food 4 Less and Four Ralphs locations store violated the law by not implementing updated safety plans for the pandemic, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health said. Besides, certain grocery chains failed to report COVID-19 infections, maintain social distancing, or adequately train employees regarding pandemic protocols. 

As per the Department of Industrial Relations in California, all of the stores given fine are owned by Cincinnati-based Kroger, U.S.' largest grocery conglomerate. According to HuffPost, officials said two Ralph stores failed to inform the state about the death of their employee- one in Sherman Oaks and another in Culver City. 

A week after they happened, regulators learned about the deaths. California law requires death likely to be job-related be reported within eight hours of the employer learning about it to Cal/OSHA.

Employers are responsible for determining whether an employee's illness has resulted from work, Cal/OSHA Chief Doug Parker said.

He added that retail grocery employees are on the front line and battling with a higher risk of exposure to COVID. Employers in the said industry should investigate possible causes of their employees' illnesses and put a necessary measure to protect their staff.

The five grocery chains fined a total of more than $104,000, with each fines ranging from $13,500 to $25,560. Meanwhile, in a statement, Ralphs and Food 4 Less said that the state's announcement about the penalties was a "misrepresentation of the facts." It added that the coronavirus cases date back before the state issued workplace guidelines on dealing with the pandemic. 

Ralphs and Food 4 Less said they are planning to appeal the citations and air the company's side of the story. The statement said: "To be clear, the safety of our associates and customers is our top priority. We have learned and continue to investigate while keeping our stores and supply chain open and serving Southern California amid the pandemic." 

Through every COVID-19 surge, grocery chains employees have worked as "essential" workers crucial for maintaining the food supply. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union says over 100 grocery store employees died of the coronavirus nationwide, and 14,000 exposed to the virus or, worse, they got infected. 

Aside from possible infection, grocery chain employees have also played the role of social-distance enforcers. They are responsible for reassuring customers to wear masks for everyone's safety. However, it led to arguments and sometimes assaults at grocery stores.

UFCW Local 170 represents employees at Ralphs and Food 4 Less. The union filed complaints against the chain with state regulators after employees began contracting the coronavirus in spring.

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