With all the jockeying by some retailers—especially fast-food franchisees—to find ways of reducing healthcare costs in the face of the Affordable Care Act, it was bound to happen: Last week, regional grocery chain Wegmans was reported to be eliminating a much-lauded health insurance benefit for part-time workers. The problem for the chain: That wasn't quite true.
Under the headline "Wegmans cuts health benefits for part-time workers," the Buffalo News reported last Thursday (July 11) that "The Rochester-based grocer that has been continually lauded for providing health insurance to its part-time workers will no longer offer that benefit." That was picked up by other media outlets and widely repeated.
But as the chain confirmed to Progressive Grocer, the health-insurance benefit remains in place for all part-timers working more than 30 hours, but the chain plans to change its eligibility requirements—starting in 2015.
A statement by the grocer also said managers "met one-on-one with each impacted employee to reassure them and to let them know we are going to do everything we can to help them through these changes." It was apparently associates who were briefed in those one-on-one meetings who told the News part-time benefits had been eliminated.
Leaving aside the question of Wegmans' own timing—18 months is a lot of advance warning for a change in part-timers' benefits—this incident is a good reminder for retailers that communicating anything to associates has gotten harder. That's especially true with information about politically charged matters such as health insurance reform or, in the case of Whole Foods (NASDAQ:WFM), restricting the language associates can use.
Store managers may be great at managing their stores, but without special training they may not be the best choice for delivering policy changes, especially in a long string of one-on-one meetings. Employees will tend to hear best what hits them emotionally the hardest. If the words they hear are "your insurance may be cut if..." or "you can't speak Spanish on the job when...", that's all they'll hear. And despite the best efforts of a retailer, that's enough to create bad coverage.
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