Could grocery stores switch to delivery and curbside pickup only?

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — Some labor experts are suggesting grocery stores change how they operate to protect employees and shoppers from spreading coronavirus.

The U.S. Department of Labor recently suggested that essential retailers use a drive through window or offer curbside pickup to protect workers from exposure to coronavirus. While it’s not a requirement at this point, there are pros and cons to weigh when considering such a drastic change in operations.

The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 is more than 41,000 and rising. Some who have died are essential workers at grocery stores. Michael LeRoy, U of I Labor Employment Relations Professor says, “These are higher death rates, higher illness rates, and these are typically low wage workers who may not have good health care.”

LeRoy emphasized that these employees are exposed to customer contact when at work, putting them at greater health risk. He says, “If the employer adopts a safer practice, their workers will be less sick and will spread the illness less.”

Last week, the U.S. Department of Labor recommended a practice that grocery store corporations could implement would be to ban customers from going inside to shop and switch to curbside pickup and delivery. But that comes with many pros and cons.

LeRoy says, “It’s hard for any employer to think about reorganizing in a big box environment for delivery and curbside. That’s daunting. That said, we hope that on some level they care about the welfare of their employees.”

Companies will also have to consider the possibility of higher numbers of worker’s compensation claims relating to the effects of COVID-19 on employees.

LeRoy says, “Employers have a “duty of care” to their employees. So if they’re not taking reasonable precautions to protect them from death or serious illness, they’ll have liability exposure.”

While corporate leaders at Walmart, Target, Kroger, and more have not publicly announced changes to their in-store operations, these are just some of the factors that would play a part in those decisions moving forward. LeRoy says, “If it would save a significant number of lives, or any lives, it’s something that should be considered.”  

Other solutions labor exerts have suggested are shortening work hours of employees to reduce exposure and requiring them to wear masks while at work. 

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