COVID 19 left many employees wondering what type of “worker” they qualify as, and whether they qualified for hazard pay. The world witnessed the most difficult times, as many were laid off, and others had to work long hours in contact with others, with the fear of getting COVID always looming.
What Is Hazard Pay?
The United States Department of Labor defined hazard pay as additional payment for those who perform work that is considered “hazardous” or dangerous. Hazardous duties are a type of activity that could result in serious injury or death. This may include physical hardship, and could result in physical discomfort. Jobs exposed to extensive physical work are considered physical hardship. Before COVID 19, hazard pay was originally for those in the military or in construction jobs. However, hazard pay has now been granted to essential workers who had to physically go in to work and risk contracting COVID 19. Hazard pay is paid as an additional payment besides overtime.
Hazard pay is also paid to the employee for those hours worked under the “physical hardship.” For example, some nurses who worked with COVID 19 patients received a hazard pay during those hours. When caring for non-COVID 19 patients, some nurses did not receive the hazard pay for those hours, because it was considered “non-hazardous.”
Hazard pay is offered to those who are considered “frontline” or “essential” workers. The CDC divided essential workers into two categories: healthcare and nonhealthcare workers. Today, the Department of Labor estimates that about 50 million frontline workers have essential jobs. About 75% of Americans support hazard pay for frontline workers.
Healthcare workers are those who have direct contact with patients who might carry the COVID 19 virus while working in a healthcare setting. Nonhealthcare workers are who come in close proximity to others who may carry the virus (not in a healthcare setting). The list of essential workers has been growing since the start of the pandemic. Essential workers in non-healthcare settings are described below:
- Grocery store workers
- Postal service workers
- Manufacturing workers
- Public transit drivers
- Corrections facility workers: many prisons experienced a surge in COVID 19 numbers during the summer of 2020.
- Restaurant workers: this sector has still not yet been categorized and defined, as some small business restaurants don’t meet the required number of employees to offer hazard pay.
- Transportation and logistics workers: those who make sure grocery stores are stocked
- Finance workers: advisers who assist families facing the COVID 19 financial hardships
- Media: news and media outlets reporting on COVID 19
- Water: those who work for the municipality water supply
- Energy: those who work in mining
Is Hazard Pay Required?
The United States Department of Labor does not regulate hazard pay. Hazard pay is not a required payment for private companies to offer their employees. Private companies can choose to offer hazard pay based on their available funds. However, many private companies chose to pay hazard pay or an additional one-time payment to their employees during COVID, also referring to those payments as “hero pay.” Although not mandated on a federal level, there are several states and cities that are mandating it. Unfortunately, a large chunk of these mandatory payments ended the summer of 2020, leaving many to wonder if and when these cities would renew the hazard pay increases again.
California is the state that has mandated the most hazard pay requirements. For example, in February, the city of Los Angeles mandated an extra $5 in hero pay boost for 120 days for grocery store workers. However, with that came negative repercussions. Kroger closed four stores in Los Angeles, claiming they were unable to keep up with the cost of employees. The city of Long Beach mandated a $4 per hour increase for grocery store workers. Coachella passed a law granting an extra $4 an hour to agricultural, grocery, restaurant, and retail pharmacy workers. Coachella also prohibited employers from reducing worker pay to offset this increase in hourly wages. Payments could be offered as a one-time flat fee, or an extra amount on the hourly pay. Below are some payments states mandated for hazard pay:
- Maryland $5.13 per hour raise
- Virginia $1,500 one-time payment
- Vermont $1,200 one-time payment
- Louisiana $200 one-time payment
- Michigan $1,000 one-time payment
For Mandated Jurisdictions, What Type of Employers Are Required to Provide Hazard Pay?
Those employers that are in the business of grocery, drug, and retail stores have been mandated to offer hazard pay in certain jurisdictions. Hazard pay ranges from $3 to $5 extra an hour.
Employers could require employees to have their temperature taken, as required by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Employers could also require their employees to wear a mask. You may ask your employer to make accommodations if you have an allergy with the specific type of mask they require. For example, if you are allergic to the synthetic fibers in the mask, you can choose to wear a cotton cloth mask. Employers could also ask employees about where they visited, and if they are experiencing any symptoms. An employer could also require its employees to take a COVID 19 test. However, employers cannot ask employees if they have an underlying condition or are immunocompromised.
To better determine if you qualify for hazard pay, contact your human resources department. Although the company is not mandated to offer any extra pay, some companies have offered additional payments when multiple employees asked for them. Further, hazard pay conditions may be included in your employment contract. Contact our experienced employment law attorneys to review your employment contract and determine if you were wrongfully denied hazard pay. We have offices in major cities in California, including Fresno and Irvine.
Many labor leaders have come forward calling for payments to essential workers with upwards of $10,000 one-time payments. However, many businesses have responded that they cannot afford rising costs, and will result in layoffs. As of May 2021, Congress has not yet seemed to come to an agreement on a federally mandated hazard pay for essential workers. Many politicians have also stated multiple times that the likelihood of it passing into law is not high as businesses start to reopen and many get vaccinated. Many states decided to make it mandatory themselves, using federal funding to assist businesses in providing hazard pay.
To better determine if you have a valid claim against your employer for hazard pay, contact our attorneys at Heidari Law Group today. Employees are not able to assert a Labor Standards Act Violation against their employers, however, if hazard pay has been covered in an employment contract, you may be eligible for compensation. If you or a loved one have been hazard pay, contact us today.
***Disclaimer: This blog is created by Heidari Law Group for educational purposes. This article provides a general understanding of the law. It does not provide specific advice. By using this site and reading through this blog, there is no attorney-client relationship created between you and any member of Heidari Law. Further, due to the constant change of the law, some parts of the information above may no longer be good law.