Kroger paid employee bonuses in March, asked for money back in April

'It feels like a slap in the face'
Posted at 5:38 PM, May 31, 2023

CINCINNATI — Kroger employees complained for months about payroll mistakes that made their checks too small. But it turns out it’s also a problem if your bonus check is too large – and the company demands a refund bigger than the bonus and overpayment combined.

“It feels like a slap in the face,” said Tabitha Gilvin, a bakery manager at Kroger’s Hartwell store. “I worked hard to get that bonus. I just want what’s supposed to be mine.”

Gilvin is one of about 50 local bakery managers who received incorrect bonus amounts in March when they were included for the first time in Kroger’s store incentive program, according to Kevin Garvey, Local 75 president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

The program brought a pay boost to roughly 800 department heads in 110 Greater Cincinnati Kroger stores. Only the bakery managers ended up with incorrect bonus amounts, said Garvey, who is working on a compromise to allow workers to pay back their overpayment over time.

“The company’s in agreement,” Garvey said. “We have an understanding about how we’re going to do this. And it needs to be fair and equitable.”

Kroger provided a statement about the bonus problems:

Kroger’s values include honesty and integrity, which means when we make a mistake, we acknowledge it and act quickly to resolve the issue. Several months ago, a small percentage of local associates were paid more than their earned incentive. This was due to a clerical mistake. We immediately identified the error, notified and provided the affected associates with options to return the mistaken overpayments in a way that respects both their personal financial situation and integrity.

The bonus problem follows a series of payroll mistakes that led to hundreds of union grievances and four lawsuits filed on behalf of Kroger employees in five states.

The lawsuits alleged the company’s new payroll system, known as MyTime, caused late or missing paychecks and mistakes in hours worked, wages paid and statements of deductions and withholdings.

Kroger has responded to those federal cases with arguments that it acted in good faith to identify and correct payroll mistakes. It also argued that employees failed to pursue grievance, arbitration and other remedies before suing.

Tabitha Gilvin joined Kroger's Hartwell store in 2020

Gilvin said she tried to resolve the bonus mistakes through the company and her union. But she was frustrated by the lack of action. So, she approached the WCPO 9 I-Team for help.

“I’m probably going to get fired for this,” she said. “Somebody needs to hold them accountable.”

Gilvin provided documents to bolster her claim that she was told in early March to expect a $3,134 bonus. But she received $6,653.93 from the company in three bank deposits on March 24.

“I called my store manager, told him they put too much money in my account. He said they already knew. HR had sent the email out that morning. And to just hang tight,” Gilvin recalled. “First, they wanted the all they money sent back in the form of a cashier’s check and then overnighted back to them. And then I was like, ‘Who was going to pay for the cashier’s check and who was paying for the overnight service?’ So, then they vetoed that.”

On April 14, Kroger’s Payroll Department sent Gilvin a letter, claiming she was “overpaid a gross amount $6,794.48” and warning of “further collection efforts” if she failed to choose one of four options for repayment.

“That’s more money than they put in my account,” Gilvin said. “And then where’s the money they owe me if I sent all of it back?”

Gilvin said she hasn’t spent any of the overpayment and is willing to send back what isn’t rightfully hers. But she’d like some assurance that the company will accurately report the bonus on her W-2 forms so she doesn’t face increased tax liability next year.

“They’re not doing anything to try to fix it,” Gilvin said. “It’s been two months and six days. They wouldn’t give me two months and six days to fix my mistake.”

Garvey promised Gilvin’s concerns will be addressed.

“The payback structure that we’re going to put together is fair and doesn’t give an undue burden and still addresses the issue of any tax liability,” Garvey said.

Beyond the bonus problem, Garvey said MyTime complaints have declined from the 40 a week that UFCW was getting in January to only seven for the month of May. But he isn't sure if the recent improvements are enough to quiet critics who’ve cited payroll mistakes as a reason to oppose Kroger’s acquisition of the Albertsons grocery chain.

“There’s various reasons people are taking a look at this, as far as market share is concerned and potential loss of (union) membership, liability to the trust funds, pension and health care. But I’m sure the payroll’s a big part of it as well,” he said. “You definitely don’t want to mess with peoples’ pay, right?”

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