Earlier this year, when #Coronavirus cases first began to rise, many employers offered hazard pay to front-line and essential workers. The hazard pay granted by employers went to those workers who had to continue working in front-line positions through the pandemic where contact with others may expose them to COVID-19.
Companies like Amazon temporarily boosted their minimum wage for hourly workers to $17 an hour, up from $15, and raised overtime pay for warehouse workers. Grocery stores like Kroger, Albertsons, Rite Aid, Stop & Shop, and others also raised their minimum wage for hourly workers by up to $2 an hour.
Now that some businesses are reopening, however, many companies are ending the extra boost in wages. Workers still need this addition to their wages for the potentially health-hazardous conditions they're working in, so why are employers ending this practice prematurely?
Hazard pay is when employers give additional compensation to employees who work in dangerous or physically demanding positions within their company. If your job demands that you regularly take risks to your personal health and safety, your employer can offer this bonus as as both an incentive to work a risky job and as a way to help you, should you become hurt or sick because of your job.
There is no law that requires employers to offer hazard pay. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires only payment of at least the federal minimum wage for each hour. And typically, hazard pay is a benefit that unions negotiate with employers or determined privately between employers and employees.
But if the whole idea of hazard pay is to compensate employees for working in risky environments, why wouldn’t companies automatically give their workers pay for the continuing risk of contracting COVID-19? According to labor advocates, there is a clear moral reason for front-line and essential workers to get additional compensation: the employees continue to show up to work during the pandemic, risking their health in order to serve their communities.
Even though the pandemic is still surging (and in many cases resurging) in states throughout the country, the hazard pay boost that workers started receiving back in March has now mostly disappeared. Some companies reason that they shouldn’t pay their workers more because stay-at-home orders were lifted, while other employers just can’t afford to give hazard pay anymore.
For weeks now, the House and Senate battled over various COVID-19 relief packages, one of which was the proposed HEROES Act. This particular bill included a provision called a “Heroes Fund,” through which the federal government would provide an additional $13 per hour, up to $25,000, to essential workers for their work through the end of the year, retroactive to January 27, 2020. The list of eligible workers included first responders, grocery store workers, cleaning and maintenance, truck drivers, and just about anybody else who reported to work during the crisis.
But despite a general bipartisan agreement that another stimulus is needed, the HEROES Act was stalled. Other stimulus packages were proposed in the interim — but none of them included any sort of hazard payment for essential workers.
On July 16, 2020, #Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf announced the creation of a new $50 million grant program. Funded by the state’s CARES Act, the new COVID-19 PA Hazard Pay Grant Program is intended to help keep frontline employees working in sectors that are vital to the state. Employers from eligible industries (businesses, healthcare nonprofits, public transportation agencies, and certified economic development organizations) apply for the grant and then when accepted, they can pay their workers hazard pay for a 10-week period from August 16, 2020 through October 24, 2020.
Eligible Pennsylvania-based industries include:
Front-line and essential workers in #Louisiana can also receive $250 in hazard pay from the state in a bill that was recently passed. Carved out from Louisiana’s CARES Act money and offered on a first-come, first-served basis, the bill provides a one-time rebate for eligible workers earning $50,000 per year or less, who spent at least 200 hours responding to or mitigating the COVID-19 crisis from March 22, 2020, through May 14, 2020. (Due to limited funding for the rebate program, eligible workers are encouraged to apply as soon as possible using the online application portal at Louisiana Frontline Workers.)
The following applicants in Louisiana are eligible to apply:
There are still thousands of Americans who haven’t stopped working since the onset of the virus. By nature of their jobs, they are expected to take risks to their health each day and compensation should be scaled to acknowledge how they put their lives on the line.
We need hazard pay for these essential workers. After all, if these workers are essential, then their lives are, too.
Do you think individual states should step in to help out essential workers? Do you think hazard pay should be a “new normal” for frontline workers?