As the number of those infected by the new strain of coronavirus continues to pitch upward, employees who can’t work from home – especially those in essential roles – have been agitating for hazard pay. Companies like Costco and Target are bumping up pay for workers (but stop short of referring to it as compensation for working under potentially dangerous circumstances), and some grocery store workers’ unions have successfully brokered more explicit hazard pay deals while employees at the Veterans Administration, Department of Defense, and other federal employers are wondering if they qualify.
While the essential jobs those companies provide keep the economy moving, one must wonder about how those on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 are being compensated. For those working in healthcare – doctors, nurses, EMTs, cleaning crews, and other hospital staff – putting themselves in the virus’ direct line of fire is a matter of course to doing their jobs during this time. Isn’t there a law that entitles them to hazard pay above everyone else? What about hospital support staff who keep the facilities clean and other workers fed?
For most federal government workers, hazard pay and environmental differential pay is a policy adopted by the U.S. government and its workers may be entitled to such compensation as per federal statute and Union Master Labor Agreements.
Hazard Duty & Environmental Differential Pay
According to the U.S. government, hazardous duty pay is additional compensation for general schedule employees who performed a duty dangerous to themselves or tasks that involved “physical hardship.”
The actual work that someone’s doing doesn’t need to be inherently dangerous – simply doing it under circumstances that could result in serious injury or death often suffices this qualification. This includes performing such a duty without adequate protective equipment (an important consideration with the shortage of disinfectants, gloves, and masks many healthcare facilities may soon face).
Environmental differential pay is essentially the same type of compensation for wage-grade federal workers who aren’t classified as general schedule employees. For these workers, additional compensation is paid according to the risk their jobs pose to them as well as how exposed they are to workplace hazards.
In late November 2019, when the new coronavirus was just beginning to stir in China, a federal arbitrator ordered environmental differential pay to hospital workers of the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Boise, Idaho. Represented by their union, Local 1273, the workers who won environmental differential payment provided cleaning and food services to the hospital and argued they were at risk of exposure to harmful chemicals and microorganisms.
General Schedule Employees
According to the U.S. government, most of its civilian workers (about 1.5 million) are general schedule employees. These people fill roles in clerical, administrative, technical, and professional capacities, and are essentially the gears that keep business within the federal government moving in spite of the coronavirus outbreak. Under U.S. employment policy, these employees are entitled to hazard pay of up to 25 percent of their basic pay.
Title 38 Employees Ineligible for Hazard Duty Pay
Like many of their counterparts in the private healthcare industry, healthcare workers employed by the federal government may not receive hazard pay, even when they’re facing down COVID-19. Because they are classified as Title 38 employees, doctors, nurses, physician’s assistants, and others who are charged with the medical care of patients are not covered by the U.S. government’s hazard pay policies.
This means that although healthcare workers for the VA or National Institutes of Health may not be able to avoid the new coronavirus because they may be treating patients who have it, they are not eligible for the federal government’s hazard pay.
Are You an Eligible Federal Worker Exposed to COVID-19?
If you’re a federal government employee who is at risk of exposure to COVID-19, you may be entitled to hazard pay or environmental differential pay. If you believe your working conditions have been made unsafe by circumstances concerning the coronavirus pandemic and/or lack of protective equipment available to you at work at this time, you can seek compensation through legal action.
At Pines Federal, we’re a firm of federal employment law attorneys who help government workers hold their employer accountable for upholding their rights at work. We can help you seek hazard duty or environmental differential compensation if you think you qualify or deserve it under these novel circumstances. If you choose us to fight for you, you’ll benefit from our firm’s 20 years of experience battling for employees like you who need to assert their rights.
Reach out to Pines Federal online or call us at (800) 801-0598 to request a consultation with one of our attorneys.