Janice Reed
Community Specialist
Posted August 10, 2020

Why is hazard pay declining for essential workers?

COVID-19 is still active across the globe, yet the hazard pay that employers were paying for essential workers, seems to be slowly disappearing.
Janice Reed
Community Specialist
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Why is hazard pay declining for essential workers?
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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?

What is hazard pay?

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.

Why hazard pay is on the decline

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.

How states began to step up...

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:

  • Healthcare and social assistance
  • Ambulatory health care services
  • Hospitals
  • Nursing and residential care facilities
  • Transit and ground passenger transportation
  • Food manufacturing
  • Food retail facilities
  • Security services for eligible industries listed above and commercial industries that were not closed
  • Janitorial services to buildings and dwellings

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:

  • Nurses, assistants, aides, medical residents, pharmacy staff, phlebotomists, respiratory therapists, and workers providing direct patient care in inpatient and outpatient dialysis facilities
  • Housekeeping, laundry services, food services, and waste management personnel in hospitals and healthcare facilities
  • Long-term care facility personnel, outpatient care workers, home care workers, personal assistance providers, home health providers, home-delivered meal providers, childcare service providers
  • Emergency medical services (EMS) personnel, fire and rescue personnel, law enforcement personnel, public health epidemiologists
  • Bus drivers; retail fuel center personnel; sanitation personnel; residential, commercial, and industrial solid waste and hazardous waste removal personnel; storage and disposal personnel
  • Grocery store, convenience store, and food assistance program personnel
  • Mortuary service providers
  • Veterinary service staff

Essential workers deserve hazard pay...

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.


What's your take on hazard pay?

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?

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Janice Reed
Community Specialist
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Comments

Craig LeClair

Thankyou Laila. Great Info. I do think hazard pay should be part of the new normal. We will have to live with COVID-19 for the next decade. Even with a vaccine, disease experts predict that COVID-19 will become an endemic disease — one that is here to stay. This means that governments, businesses, and other organizations will have to rethink the design of their workforce, and workers must re think their future.

I am with Forrester Research and studying what “work” looks like going forward. We are interviewing essential workers in different occupations and would ask 1) A bit of life story. 2) What are your most important struggles and concerns? An honest view of risks, anxiety, arguments, wage and compensation issues etc. 3) What the future looks like, particularly any changes you see from technology or COVID.

If you have anyone I could connect with would agree to an interview yourself, that would help. We can use this as just background and not use your name or employer in any way if that makes you more comfortable. At the end of the effort we can provide you with a complimentary copy of the report.

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Kai Dickerson

I fully support hazard pay. I think that anyone who faces the public should be paid more during the pandemic - because the nature of their work just became a lot more risky. While this move usually has a knock-on effect on prices of goods and services (more expensive) I think that is the new normal.

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Tara Merritt

I work front Desk in a Hotel so we are considered Essential Workers. Until a month ago those that worked the Desk also had to do laundry, clean rooms, maintenance, and anything else that needed to be done because we were the only ones there. We did not get a pay increase for all the extra work we had to do. So when I got that first Stimulus Check I was so grateful. I am a single female and I have no one here to help me. That first check just barley covered my rent. So yes another check would be greatly appreciated. I do know people that are getting unemployment and have made the comment that they did not want to go back to work because unemployment was almost double what there pay check was. I will say again. I could really use more help anyway I can get it.

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Garland Marc Lundry

Stingy greedy company's that don't value the very entity that makes them what they are, money makers.

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Garland Marc Lundry

Stingy greedy company's that don't value the very entity that makes them what they are, money makers.

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Tonya Starr

How long does it take to get the check after you sign up for it

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Ford Simpson

Sorry to say the new normal is no more hazard pay. People are back to work and we deserve nothing more. That's ok with me as I know I never depended on the extra money. Be careful,the virus is not going away anytime soon, Ford

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Ford Simpson

Sorry to say the new normal is no more hazard pay. People are back to work and we deserve nothing more. That's ok with me as I know I never depended on the extra money. Be careful,the virus is not going away anytime soon, Ford

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Tonya Starr

I work in a grocery store I have filled out for the workforce rebate but I have not heard anything. My friend got hers do you know anything about this

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