The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has shutdown dine-in restaurants and schools, grocery store shelves have been emptied and hospitals are flooded with patients. Mass gatherings are a thing of the past and makeshift pop-up hospitals are a part of the new normal. On the very frontline of this outbreak are our healthcare providers and beside them are custodial workers, delivery drivers and grocery store clerks. These essential workers are asked to make a hefty sacrifice everyday– risking their health. Somehow, these workers are showing up, putting in extended hours, and making the best of it with a dwindling supply of personal protective equipment (PPE). In return for these costly requests, our essential workers are thanked with the same rate of pay.
Currently, there is no federal or state law requiring employers to compensate employees with hazard pay. According to the department of U.S. Labor, hazard pay is defined as “additional pay for performing hazardous duty or work involving physical hardship.” The purpose of hazard pay is to provide an employee with additional monies for work that may result in serious injury or death. Generally, this payment is in addition to regular hourly wages or a salary. The amount of hazard pay and the conditions under which it is paid are determined by the employer.
Because hazard pay is a discretionary employer decision, there is an uneven treatment of essential workers. Corporations such as Amazon and Target are implementing temporary pay increases of $2 per hour and other companies such as CVS and Walmart will be giving $150 to $500 to essential workers. But not all corporations have been generous. Here in Massachusetts, Partners HealthCare, the multi-million-dollar (and largest) health care system in the state told its doctors, nurses, and other employees via an email they would not be receiving hazard or crisis pay for dealing with coronavirus cases.
Luckily, Senate Democrats initiated a proposal to pass the “Heroes Fund”. The Heroes Fund would give essential workers up to $25,000 in hazard pay– this would amount to a $13-per-hour raise. Eligible federal, state, local, tribal, and some private sector employers would apply to the to be determined designated federal agency and funds would be distributed to the employer. Additionally, the Heroes Fund would also support the families of workers who have succumbed to COVID-19.
On the state level, thanks to the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 93, which represents about 45,000 public employees in New England, unionized essential healthcare workers in Massachusetts will receive a form of hazard pay. Workers holding a license related to their occupation, will receive a temporary $10 increase in their hourly wage, while all other workers will receive a $5 per hour pay increase. As a bonus for those healthcare workers who have not missed a day or shift of work since the state of emergency was declared, they will receive a one-time $500 bonus.
As far as Massachusetts law goes, a number of proposals have been submitted to the legislature. Bill S. 2618 would “provide additional support to those affected by the novel coronavirus through the unemployment insurance system”; and Bill H. 4611 would “protect certain public safety personnel and first responders suffering from incapacitation or inability to perform their duties as a result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) infection or exposure”. The Massachusetts legislature has not decided on either Bill yet.
All workers that are being asked to put themselves at risk should be compensated. To stay in the loop concerning changes in hazard pay laws contact our office at (508) 998-0800 or submit a message to our office via the contact box on your left.