While many businesses across the country have closed in response to the coronavirus, there are some that have remained open due to being essential to the public — like supermarkets and pharmacies. Essential employees at those establishments are continuing to work outside of their homes, often without PPE, and a growing number are demanding hazard pay. But what exactly is hazard pay, how much is usually given, and who is eligible?
What Is Hazard Pay?
Hazard pay is extra hourly pay or bonus pay for doing work that is dangerous or causes physical hardship. In the military, some service members like pilots and parachute jumpers are given a monthly incentive pay for the dangerous nature of their jobs. Members of the U.N. International Civil Service Commission who are asked to work in dangerous conditions, whether it’s a conflict zone or a public health emergency, are currently eligible to receive up to $1,600 a month in hazard pay. Sometimes, employers might not actually call it hazard pay, instead framing it as an incentive to sweeten the job offer.
But typically, the term “hazard pay” applies to positions that aren’t dangerous all of the time, and pays an extra hourly rate just for the portion that puts workers at risk. Working in mines or on construction sites — jobs that sometimes take you to high-crime areas, or expose you to hostile weather or high pollution conditions — are examples of situations that could merit hazard pay.
It seems obvious that people who continue to work during a pandemic should be entitled to hazard pay, but many companies have yet to implement it or have offered inadequate compensation given the potential dangers. Amazon, Whole Foods, and Target are currently giving their workers $2/hr hazard pay. Walmart has announced bonuses of up to $300 and CVS Health has announced bonuses of up to $500 for some of their employees, but so far these are one-time payments.
Who Is Eligible For Hazard Pay?
The answer is both anyone and no one. There’s currently no federal law clearly guaranteeing hazard pay in times of a pandemic — it’s all up to the discretion of your employers. That’s in part why workers across industries have been demanding hazard pay — or higher hazard pay — with walkouts and strikes. It’s not just grocery store workers like Instacart and Amazon employees, who organized strikes and sick-outs last week. Hospital workers and medical professionals, many who are now reusing PPE due to a shortage, have also been asking for hazard pay. USPS employees are also demanding it, and the American Federation of Government Employees, a union representing federal government employees, has sued the Trump administration for not giving them hazard pay.
The three coronavirus relief bills Congress has passed so far have not addressed the issue. Senator Chuck Schumer has called for a hazard pay provision that includes retroactive pay for essential workers, but it’s unclear when exactly the next relief bill will come.