As the country looks for ways to support our essential workers who are risking their health every day on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress and many states, including Massachusetts, are considering introducing “hazard pay”. Hazard pay is defined as additional compensation provided to employees who are performing duties involving physical hardship or dangerous situations, and it is typically given as either a percentage of hourly pay or as a flat rate. As insightfully noted by the American Action Forum (here), the actual implementation of hazard pay will occur via negotiation and agreement by labor groups/unions and employers. Various pieces of legislation will earmark funds for different groups of workers in every proposal.
At the federal level, the Senate released their plan for hazard pay, calling for flat hourly rate increases of an additional $13/hour to essential workers, called the “Heroes Fund”. The plan includes a variety of industries and jobs, such as healthcare and pharmacy workers, janitors, truck drivers and grocery store employees. For all, working from home is not an option. The Heroes Fund would apply retroactively, starting from the start of the pandemic to the end of 2020, and would be capped at $25,000 for workers earning less than $200,000 and at $5,000 for those earning more than $200,000.
In Massachusetts, the first wave of hazard pay has already been announced. The union representing state employed nurses and caregivers reached an agreement with the state to increase hourly pay by $10/hour for those with a license, and $5 for those without. The benefit applies to about 6500 healthcare workers in state hospitals and group homes. The agreement also allows for a one-time $500 bonus for workers who haven’t missed a scheduled day since Governor Baker declared a state of emergency on March 10.
At the same time as some healthcare workers in MA are receiving well deserved pay raises in an attempt to mitigate the inherent danger of coming in contact with the public every day, other healthcare workers are being told they are appreciated, but not enough to be paid for it. The millionaire CEO of the largest healthcare system in Massachusetts, Partners Healthcare, sent an email to employees thanking them for “providing exceptional patient care and for supporting each other and the community” while also declaring that “we do not calibrate pay and benefits based upon the patients’ condition and for this reason we do not offer hazard or crisis pay.”
New unemployment guidelines continue to rollout and the first wave of stimulus checks have made their way into the bank accounts of some. Indeed, it is a dark time for all people across the country, as people are having to face exposure and risk spreading infection of a potentially deadly virus, just to survive and earn a paycheck. Many don’t have jobs due to lockdown orders. Both the employed and the unemployed are facing a unique set of struggles, unseen in our lifetimes and the lifetimes of the oldest folks we know.
If you are experiencing unfair paycheck or payroll practices, please do not hesitate to contact our office today to discuss your situation with Attorney Phillips, an experienced wage claim attorney. The laws are nuanced and complicated and each individual's situation is different. We do not collect any money upfront from our clients and we only get paid if and when we win your case.
Don't be afraid to speak up for your rights: Attorney Phillips has built his career on standing up for people in the face of powerful businesses, and winning. Your employer cannot retaliate against you for filing a wage claim (as they would then be facing another lawsuit!) Leave a message on our website or call us at 508.998.0800 today to discuss what we can do for you.
--April 3, 2020.