Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, discussions about hazard pay for essential workers have moved to the forefront. During the pandemic, some states and local jurisdictions mandated hazard pay for workers on the front lines as additional compensation for the risks they faced.
However, the COVID pandemic is not the only reason for hazard pay. Many high-risk jobs offer hazard pay. If you work in dangerous or demanding conditions, continue reading to learn about the hazard pay laws you need to know.
What Is Hazard Pay?
Hazard pay is compensation added to a worker’s regular rate for performing hazardous duty. Hazard pay typically applies when an employee’s work duties cause extreme physical hardship or severe psychological distress. Positions that could qualify for hazard pay include:
- Jobs that expose workers to dangerous chemicals or pathogens
- Jobs that are exceptionally physically or mentally demanding
- Jobs that cause psychological distress
- Jobs that require regular exposure to highly uncomfortable working conditions
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to provide protective equipment and protocols to ensure employee safety. However, inherently dangerous jobs could still qualify for hazard pay. For instance, oil rig workers, deep sea fishermen, and hazardous waste processors may receive hazard pay due to the severe risks they face in their positions.
Hazard Pay Provisions and Regulations
To determine whether you are eligible for hazard pay, you should understand when it is applicable, who is eligible, and how much you could earn.
When it Is Applicable
Your options for hazard pay vary depending on your employment circumstances, contract, and applicable laws. In jurisdictions where hazard pay laws apply, employers must add hazard payments to your hours within the same pay period you performed the hazardous duty.
A recent example is the hazard pay mandates for essential workers during the COVID pandemic. Many state and local jurisdictions established hazard pay for healthcare providers, retail workers, manufacturers, and other employees classified as “essential” during the pandemic.
Each locale’s COVID hazard pay laws established a specific hourly increase, differential, percentage increase, or base pay rate for eligible employees during the pandemic.
Absent state or local laws, your employer decides whether hazard pay is available and when it is applicable. However, if the contract states that you earn hazard pay for specific hazardous conditions, they must provide payments as agreed.
Hazard pay may come with your contract for a dangerous position. State essential worker definitions differ when hazard pay is government-mandated.
Many states defaulted to the federal guidelines outlined by the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). Under these guidelines, essential workers included:
- Healthcare workers
- Law enforcement, public safety, and first responders
- Education and supporting workers
- Food and agriculture workers, including grocery store workers
- Energy sector employees
- Water and wastewater workers
- Transportation and logistics employees
- Public works and infrastructure support
- Communications and information technology (IT) workers
- Community- and government-based essential workers
- Critical manufacturing workers
- Hazardous materials management and support
- Financial services workers
- Chemical and industrial gas supply, production, and transport workers
- Defense industrial support services, contractors, and subcontractors
- Commercial facilities workers
- Residential, shelter, housing, real estate, and related service providers
- Hygiene product creation and services
Based on the state where you work, you could be eligible for hazard pay during a pandemic or natural disaster if you work in an essential field during an emergency. Speak with an employment attorney near you to learn about the hazard pay laws in your area.
Hazard Pay Wage Amounts
Federal laws do not address hazard pay amounts. However, the Equal Pay Act states that if one employee receives hazard pay within your company, all employees in the same position and conditions must receive the same hazard pay. In addition, the Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to include hazard pay for federal employees in their regular pay rate when calculating overtime.
Just as hazard pay eligibility differs between states, jurisdictions, and companies, so too do hazard pay wage amounts. Your company may have a hazard pay policy if local laws do not require hazard pay.
Your company may consider several factors when determining your eligibility for hazard pay, including your position, location, and the length of time you have been with the company. Your contract should specify the amount of hazard pay you can receive, whether a per-hour increase, percentage of your salary, or lump sum on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis.
Are Employers Required by Law To Pay a Hazard Differential?
Hazard pay is not federally mandated, but some state and local laws require additional compensation for workers in specific jobs and locations.
If you are a union employee, you may have additional protections and options regarding hazard pay. During and after the COVID pandemic, several unions, including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), successfully negotiated hazard pay for their members.
If your employer offers a hazard differential for work you performed, they must do so on time. If they do not, you could sue them for the pay they owe. If you win the case, you may be eligible to receive double the amount owed for unpaid hazard wages. Speak with a skilled employment litigation attorney to discuss your options.
Are You Owed Hazard Pay? Our Employment Law Attorneys Can Help
You have options if your employer fails to pay you the hazard pay you earned. The employment attorneys at Dunn Sheehan have extensive experience handling employment matters, including hazard pay disputes. We can represent you in negotiations and help you file a lawsuit if necessary.
When you work with Dunn Sheehan, you can rest assured we will use our extensive resources to secure the hazard pay and associated damages you deserve.
Contact Dunn Sheehan today to schedule your free consultation.