How transparent should grocers be about employees infected with COVID-19?

Discussion
Source: traderjoes.com - Photo: Getty Images/BCFC
Apr 13, 2020
Tom Ryan

Trader Joe’s, H-E-B and ShopRite are standing out for providing transparency about the number of their employees testing positive for coronavirus. The majority of retail is largely keeping such incidents under wraps.

Trader Joe’s prominently displays a “Today’s Temporary Closures” update  on its website that shows how many stores have been temporarily closed for cleaning because at least one associate has tested positive. The update includes the latest date when an infected “crew member” was in the store. As of Saturday, six stores were closed due to an infection. The chain wrote in the update, “We believe in being proactive and transparent in addressing issues, and we value information and clear communication.”

Trader Joe’s also appears to be one of the few that is temporarily closing locations to conduct a deep cleaning after an incident.

H-E-B similarly details on its site when an associate has tested positive and was last in a particular store. The Texas chain notes that the store has been thoroughly cleaned. ShopRite details on Facebook pages how many associates have tested positive and how many are showing symptoms.

Walmart is among a number of larger chains that has declined to confirm employee infections, citing medical privacy laws. A spokesperson at Wegmans told the Star Ledger, “The personal health information of all Wegmans employees is private, and as such we are not privy to, or at liberty to share, individual details.”

A leaked employee memo regarding a worker testing positive at a Costco in Missouri said, “We share this information in the spirit of transparency; however, we also understand this can cause heightened anxiety.”

Some grocers are confirming cases of employees testing positive to the media. The stores assert they’re informing local health authorities but aren’t providing such information regularly to the public since it’s not required by law.

Those confirming cases will stress the store has been extensively cleaned following discovery and store employees have been informed. In some cases, employees in close contact with the infected worker are being urged to self-quarantine.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How transparent should grocers be about store employees testing positive for COVID-19? Does the increased confidence in safety measures being taken due to transparency offset the anxiety such disclosures may cause for customers and employees?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Those who purposely obfuscate the truth to the detriment of the public should be held commensurately responsible."
"The truth will always come out and, in times of crisis, being proactive with your communications is the only strategy."
"Grocers need to be completely transparent or they risk losing customers now and in the future."

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32 Comments on "How transparent should grocers be about employees infected with COVID-19?"


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Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

I believe that retailers need to be very transparent about any positive cases or deaths from COVID-19. I saw news this morning that there were deaths of Kroger and Meijer employees last week. I believe customers just want to be aware as well as know what the company is doing to uphold the safety measures in place. No reason to hide things – it just breeds mistrust.

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust
Suresh Chaganti
Co-Founder and Executive Partner, VectorScient
1 year 6 days ago

We had similar discussions about disclosing product recalls in grocery stores. The guidance then and now is the same. Transparency and proactive disclosures build trust. It is good for employees, store personnel and customers. Nothing good can come from keeping it under wraps or obfuscating.

Jeff Weidauer
BrainTrust

Full transparency is the only option that makes sense. In a world of instant communication and full-time connectivity, it’s not possible to keep secrets that impact the public good. Either be up-front and transparent, or starting working on your damage control plans for when the story gets out.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

Radically transparent. It’s a painful short-term disclosure and a highly positive long-term decision. It’s painful for the grocer and customer alike. But hey, we’re talking food, not khakis and hoodies. The customer simply must have trust in their food shopping environment. Lots of purchases can be deferred. Food is pretty much at the top of the list of “essentials.” Without the proper mitigation and tracking, we will never get out of this loop. Testing and temperature-taking are at the top of the list for food service employees, right along with health care workers.

Bethany Allee
BrainTrust

As someone who shops at an H-E-B, I appreciate the transparency. It continues to build my level of trust with the brand. My community is aware of the risk, and we continue to shop with H-E-B. Every grocery chain is impacted by COVID-19, instilling confidence in cleanliness and sanitation for customers is a good thing.

Michael Terpkosh
BrainTrust

Transparency is the best policy for the retailer, employees and customers. A retailer being transparent and telling customers a store is being deep cleaned is yet another way to stress to everyone the seriousness of the situation. It also demonstrates to consumers that a retailer is being proactive in the fight against the virus.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

It has become amply clear in the last decade that, other than in matters of national security, transparency should be the only policy. Those who purposely obfuscate the truth to the detriment of the public should be held commensurately responsible.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Why is this even a conversation? Grocers should be 100 percent transparent about the number of store employees who test positive for COVID-19. While I understand Wegmans’ statement about employees health information being private, the retailer can still let customers know numbers of employees who are ill and what they are doing about it without sharing the employees’ names.

I do not have complete confidence that essential retailers are doing all they can. It should be mandatory that all grocery store employees wear masks, and maybe even rubber gloves. Shoppers should also be required to wear masks in order to enter the store. There is a responsibility level here that is not being met.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

Retailers are between a rock and a hard place. I think it is extremely important for the store to make the announcement before the public word of mouth has the chance to proliferate. At the same time, the company’s public relations department must have a well-designed message detailing the incredible cleaning process that is constantly and consistently being implemented in the store. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to announce such an infection, but the downside could be incredibly disastrous when the rumors hit the streets. Grocers: make sure staff is wearing all the protective items available. Show your intent.

Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust

Full transparency translates to trust. Opaqueness equates to denial and adds to uncertainty and distrust. Anxiety happens from lack of disclosure or lack of explicitly detailed cleaning protocols undertaken before reopening stores.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

The BrainTrust seems pretty unified on this discussion. I am in step with you all.

As a shopper, would I rather go into a store wondering if any employees were infected? Wondering if the store knew one or more employees were infected? Or instead seeing a sign: “We have two employees infected. They are home in quarantine. We have thoroughly disinfected the store. We will continue to be extremely diligent in protecting everyone’s safety.”?

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

Gene, excellent!

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

And if they had died would you still put that on a sign?

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Bob, if they died as in the case of Kroger and Walmart, the media would have advertised it for you.

FrankKochenash
Guest
I will take a little more of a provocative point of view. The issue isn’t transparency, per se, but what to be transparent about. In other words, transparency is a necessary and productive concept. But what are we recommending retailers share, and when? That is the real question. Should every store have a list posted on their entry doors of which employees have been tested, when each was last tested, and as well who tested positive and what their current situation is? I think we can quickly get to a situation where transparency becomes overwhelming and nonproductive (as well as insensitive). Also, who controls what is transparently revealed to the public? Inconsistent transparency policies across a retailer network can lead to reduced trust, not more. Rather, retailers should be very clear and public about what their policies are and they should audit regularly (daily and weekly) against these policies. They should welcome employee and customer feedback if they see violations. How often are they testing employees? Are facial masks required in the store and/or in… Read more »
Verlin Youd
BrainTrust

I agree with Bob Amster and Jeff Sward, and like the term “radically transparent” in this case. Transparency is now an expectation and retailers would do well to use this COVID-19 situation to increase transparency where it may have been less comfortable previously. I support privacy in not divulging the employee name but full transparency in reporting cases as well as the cleaning that has occurred as a result.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

I believe total transparency is the only way we can beat this plague. I watched the movie Contagion this weekend and it was a frightening lesson and education on what we are facing. We need to be as open and scientific as we can in our approach to defeating this invisible enemy and institutional obfuscation is not the way to do it. Whether it is information from local, state, the federal government or even a retailer we need precise data to defeat this scourge.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

It’s not just about transparency with the customer but (more importantly) with other store associates. Employees need to understand if they have been exposed to risk, and to self-quarantine if necessary. If this requires a grocer to shut its doors for a period of time, the better for public safety.

Michael La Kier
BrainTrust

The more transparent the better — full stop. That being said, it’s not necessary to call out individuals (of course). Informing the public at a time of great angst and confusion offers reassurance that a retailer knows what it is doing.

Lisa Goller
BrainTrust

Transparency earns trust — and honesty now can pay off with long-term loyalty.

Retailers of all sizes, including Amazon, have workers sick with COVID-19. Rather than hiding the facts in shame, retailers need to be honest, proactive and responsible.

To stay ahead of the employee grapevine and public shaming, retailers should put a plan into place to adopt public health and safety best practices, identify sick workers, and protect employees and consumers.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

There’s no question that retailers need to be transparent regarding staff members being diagnosed with COVID-19 with their customers and employees. Not doing so makes them complicit in any cases that result from interaction with that individual. Knowing that the issue was then addressed via such methods as deep sanitizing cleaning is something that I would want if I were an employee.

Kathleen Fischer
BrainTrust

Grocers need to be completely transparent or they risk losing customers now and in the future. By not sharing that information with their customers, this breeds mistrust and will likely damage business more over the long-term.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

The first question is easy. Unless you are radically transparent you are putting the lives of your employees and customers at risk.The answer to the second question is no. Yesterday I learned my niece and her boyfriend – both of whom work for Trader Joe’s – have come down with COVID-19. They work at different stores and had convinced themselves that the symptoms they were experiencing were the result of prolonged exposure to the disinfectants Trader Joe’s liberally uses on every cart and surface. But despite disinfectants, masks, gloves, and frequent hand washing, they still were infected. More alarming still was that he was feeling badly, got tested, and was told he was clear. When he asked his doctor how this happened his doctor told him one in five (20 percent) of the tests they saw were coming back with false positives or negatives. If this keeps up, retailers are going to have to rethink their already rethought plans for keeping stores open.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust
Ricardo Belmar
Retail Transformation Thought Leader
1 year 6 days ago

Consumers need to know they can trust the essential retailers that are open so we can keep ourselves safe and able to buy groceries and other essentials. Transparency is a requirement to do this right. No one needs to know the names of anyone infected, so complying with health privacy regulations shouldn’t be an issue. Consumers just want to know that if someone at their grocery store tested positive for COVD-19 that the retailer is taking the necessary steps to sanitize the store and ensure the safety of customers. Trader Joe’s has it right. If that means closing a store temporarily to properly sanitize, then so be it. Customers will remember who was transparent and who was not.