Essential Employees & Hazard Pay

With massive segments of the nation shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees continue to provide vital services to our communities. These essential employees are heroes in the truest sense of the word. They include our healthcare providers, first responders, police, firefighters, truck drivers, social workers, grocery workers, factory workers, and many more. They continue to work hard despite facing increasing risks of infection and sickness. Are they entitled to hazard pay? They should be, but whether these essential workers can actually recover hazard pay, is quite tricky, and unfortunately, not very likely.

Hazard pay is a premium pay rate added to one’s pay check to compensate for performing hazardous duty or work involving physical hardship. The decision to offer hazard pay is one that largely is governed by the employer. And some employers have stepped up during this time of crisis to offer various iterations of hazard pay. For example, grocery chains Food Lion, Kroger, and Whole Foods have improved compensation and other key benefits for employees during the pandemic. Harris Teeter has provided a “hero bonus” to many of its employees in response to the Coronavirus.

Some local municipalities have also jumped in on the hazard pay train. The City of Charlotte just recently approved a hazard pay premium for first responders and city employees. Both Winston-Salem and Greensboro also have implemented versions of hazard pay for city employees that must regularly come in contact with others while at work. The State Employee Association of North Carolina (SEANC), on behalf of thousands of state employees, has written to the Governor and leadership of the N.C. General Assembly asking for hazard pay for state employees that must continue to expose themselves to risk associated with the virus. Plans for legislation including such hazard pay are presently unclear.

Many in healthcare have been clamoring for hazard pay as they are on the front-lines battling the Coronavirus and often face risk of high viral loads. The individual treatment facilities get to make the call on whether or not to offer such premium compensation. Many Medicaid dependent facilities, such as nursing homes and hospice care, might be in a better position to offer hazard pay. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has increased the fee-for-service reimbursement rates for Medicaid facilities during the crisis. This means, providers can be paid more by the State for services and theoretically, could use that extra pay to increase employee compensation.

Some employees have banded together to request hazard pay from their employer. This has been met with varied success, as one of the State’s largest healthcare organizations that operates several hospitals, recently made the news for denying hazard pay after it was requested by front line workers.

If you are an essential employee, you can ask your management about your employer’s policies on hazard pay. They may have a system in place or be considering such a system and your feedback might urge them in the direction of offering a premium compensation for those heroes that keep our community safe and functioning.