Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, some companies have provided incentives to their employees so that they will continue to work. These extra payments are made on top of their employees’ regular hourly rates and are meant to encourage workers to report to their jobs even when there is a heightened risk of illness, injury, or death. Hazard pay is not mandatory, but it might be something that you encounter in the workplace. Here is some information from Swartz Swidler about hazard pay and your rights.
Understanding hazard pay
Hazard pay is additional money that is paid to workers on top of their regular earnings. This type of pay might be offered by employers to employees when they face a risk of serious injury or death. Hazard pay is offered as an enticement to people for them to agree to work despite the higher risks involved.
In many cases, hazard pay is paid as an increase in a worker’s regular hourly rate and may be applied as a premium. For example, a company might offer an employee a 10% premium when he or she works under dangerous conditions. In other cases, hazard pay may be paid at a flat rate per month.
If an employee who receives hazard pay works more than 40 hours during a week and is eligible for overtime compensation, his or her overtime rate would include both the base salary and the hazard pay in the calculation. For example, if a worker earns $15 per hour as his or her regular hourly rate but receives $2 per hour in hazard pay, his or her overtime rate would be calculated based on one-and-one-half times the total hourly earnings of $17 per hour instead of $15 per hour.
During the coronavirus pandemic, some companies increased the hourly rates for workers to incentivize them to continue coming in to work. Many of these companies included large retailers and grocery chains with workers who have a substantial amount of in-person contact with the public. Others included health care facilities, construction companies, and others.
In general, employees are only paid hazard pay for the hours they work in dangerous conditions. For example, if a worker works for four hours per day directly interacting with the public while checking groceries and spends the other four hours performing tasks in which he or she does not have to have in-person contact during the pandemic, the worker might only receive hazard pay for the hours during which he or she has in-person contact.
When hazard pay might be offered
An employer might offer hazard pay to employees who have hazardous jobs or perform hazardous tasks. They might also offer hazard pay to workers who perform work in dangerous locations or under extreme duress. Workers might receive hazard pay for performing work that causes extreme physical discomfort. Even though companies provide personal protective equipment for these types of jobs, hazard pay is still common because of the serious risks involved. Finally, hazard pay may also be offered temporarily during a natural disaster or a pandemic.
Are employers required to offer hazard pay?
Hazard pay is not mandated under any law, including the Fair Labor Standards Act. However, when an employer pays hazard pay, it counts towards the worker’s regular rate of pay. This means that a worker who earns overtime must be paid at a rate of one-and-one-half times his or her total hourly earnings rate rather than his or her base hourly rate alone. Under the Equal Pay Act, workers who encounter equally hazardous risks at their jobs must receive equal pay. For example, if a man and a woman are both required to work under the same dangerous conditions, an employer who chooses to offer hazard pay must provide the same hazard payment to both workers.
How hazard pay is calculated
Typically, companies that offer hazard pay vary the amounts based on the tasks involved and the specific positions. Some companies calculate hazard pay by the number of years each employee has been performing the work. In the U.S. military, soldiers might receive from $150 to $225 per month in hazard pay for performing specific tasks or serving in specific roles.
Who can receive hazard pay?
If your job is risky, you can ask your manager if you can receive hazard pay. Unions sometimes organize efforts for workers to receive hazard pay. However, whether you will receive hazard pay will depend on your company, manager, and specific situation. Most employers either do not offer hazard pay or have policies about when it might be paid in place, so you can check the policies at your workplace to learn more.
Hazard pay during the pandemic
Some jobs that normally would not be considered hazardous can become risky during a pandemic or natural disaster. These types of essential services might be considered dangerous because they must remain open:
- Water, sewage, recycling, and trash
- Banks and financial institutions
- Grocery stores
- Health care workers
- Veterinary offices
- Customs officials
- Government employees
- Police and fire officials
- Trains, airplanes, buses, and taxis
Do you have a right to hazard pay?
Hazard pay typically does not involve any legal issues unless your request for hazard pay was approved but then you did not receive it or if your company has hazard pay in its policies but it refused to pay it to you. You do have the right to request hazard pay if you work in a high-risk job, including front-line health workers who are dealing with highly contagious illnesses like the novel coronavirus.
If you would like to learn more about your rights to hazard pay, you should talk to an experienced employment lawyer at Swartz Swidler. We can help you to understand your rights to hazard pay and the legal options that might be available. Contact us today for a free consultation at 856.685.7420.