Kroger has swiftly u-turned on its decision to demand "hero pay" back from some employees it accidentally overpaid.
The retail giant, which boasts a revenue of $121billion, began trending on Tuesday when one of its employees shared a letter he'd received threatening to send him to collections if he did not return $461 of Emergency Pay it had mistakenly given him.
The Cincinnati-based firm, which owns Ralph's, Food 4 Less, Dillon's, and Pay Less, among many others, had increased its front-line employees' wages by $2 an hour since March 29 to reward those working during the coronavirus outbreak.
However the so-called "hero pay" initiative ended on Saturday, despite union officials pointing out that none of the risks had gone away.
The sting of the end of hero pay was compounded by the revelation the firm, which is the fourth-largest American-owned private employer in US, was coming after the few hundred dollars each it had overpaid some of its "heroes".
Demanding employees' signatures to authorize a one time deduction of $461.60 from their wage packet (or three deductions of $153.87, or five deductions of $92.32), the letter warned in bold: "Failure to repay the overpayment could result in further collection efforts."
After one employee posted a photo of the letter on Twitter, it quickly went viral.
"The same company that spends millions on their hero ads for their employees wants the money they paid them back. 'We'll say you're heroes but we'll pay you like you're replaceable.' Bad look @kroger," one user wrote.
"Four Kroger employees have died from C virus. Kroger announces the end of hazard pay of $2 an hour as of May 17. CEO McMullen paid $24m last year based on successful reduction of operating costs, which includes employee wages," another wrote.
Kroger moved quick to quell the backlash.
Four Kroger employees have died from C virus
Kroger announces the end of hazard pay of $2 an hour as of May 17
CEO McMullen paid $24m last year based on successful reduction of operating costs, which includes employee wages https://t.co/ciTVLsGRUU
The same company that spends millions on their hero ads for their employees wants the money they paid them back. "We'll say you're heroes but we'll pay you like you're replaceable." Bad look @kroger. 😬🤨
@kroger you have now lost our family as customers and we will be sharing this concerning news with friends and family as well. Your CEO, Rodney McMullen was awarded $21.1 million dollars in compensation for 2019. This is completely wrong. https://t.co/KM8K7qx58F
"We've instructed our payroll department to directly inform the small number of associates affected by the recent overpayments of Emergency Leave of Absence pay that we will not seek repayment," it told Marketwatch in a statement.
It also announced it would spend a further $130million on a one-time "thank you" bonus, awarding each of its full time workers $400, and its part-time employees $200.