With Risks and Stress on the Rise, Employers Shrug at Hazard Pay for Workers

The U.S. Department of Labor defines hazard pay as additional compensation for work performed under hazardous conditions that cause extreme physical discomfort and distress that is not alleviated by protective devices. While the federal agency does not require organizations outside of the federal government to pay workers under extreme conditions, it is a requirement that hazard pay is included for all federal workers.

According to a recent article appearing on the HR Dive website, however, most employers are not offering hazard pay for workers who are deemed “essential” and are working during the COVID-19 pandemic. These workers include not only the doctors, nurses, and other emergency personnel but also grocery and retail workers whose potential exposure to the virus is higher than those who can continue to work from home.

In a recent survey, 60% of participants said that they had no plans to offer additional support to workers who work in the caregiving fields. Instead,  70% of the survey participants said that they were promoting employee resource programs.   Other measures include offering tips for workers on maintaining physical and mental health and encouraging social connection while doing so at a safe distance.

Even though the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require employers to pay workers on the front lines more for being under increased risk, HR professionals and business leaders do believe that these workers deserve to be given additional compensation.  CNBC recently reported that the vast majority of these workers do not have adequate access to healthcare and benefits that would help them if they do get sick.  The vast majority of these workers also live in multigenerational households, where increased exposure to the virus could potentially infect other family members.

According to Mark Perrone, President of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, “People are pretty resilient as long as they see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Perrone continues, “If they can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, that’s when I think that people kind of break a little bit.”

However, Perrone also notes that many workers can’t sleep, have increased levels of stress, and experience burnout because they must face higher than normal levels of stress due to the pandemic.  Perrone believes that while companies refer to these workers as “heroes” for doing their jobs under the current conditions, it is likely that they will need compensation and increased access to mental healthcare options.