The Status of the Hazard Pay for Essential Workers Bill in Congress

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the risks and challenges faced by essential workers across many industries. From healthcare to grocery retail, essential employees have continued serving on the frontlines despite dangers of virus exposure. In response, there have been efforts in Congress to provide hazard pay to compensate these workers for the health risks they face. A bill known as the “Hazard Pay for Essential Workers Act” aims to mandate additional pay for frontline workers. But what is the status of this proposed legislation? Will the hazard pay bill actually get passed?

The Call for Hazard Pay

Hazard pay refers to additional compensation for performing hazardous duties that involve physical hardship or increased risk. The premise is that employees taking on dangerous or risky jobs deserve higher pay for putting themselves in harm’s way.

During the pandemic, labor unions, advocacy groups, and some lawmakers have pushed for providing hazard pay to private and public sector workers with high virus exposure including:

  • Doctors, nurses, hospital staff
  • First responders
  • Food supply workers
  • Grocery store employees
  • Pharmacy staff
  • Transit workers
  • Janitors and sanitation workers
  • Childcare providers
  • Postal service workers

These frontline employees have faced illness, quarantines, lack of protective equipment and constant risk of infection. Hazard pay legislation aims to compensate them for these ongoing health threats and uncertainties.

The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act

The HEROES Act, a $3 trillion plan to help people from the coronavirus, was passed by Democrats in the House in May 2020. It called for both one-time stimulus checks to be sent to Americans and “premium pay,” which is an increase of $13 per hour over regular wages for essential workers.

However the HEROES Act stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate over disputes about the scope and cost of the bill. The hazard pay provisions were dropped from subsequent relief deals. But the concept helped lay groundwork for new legislation specifically focused on essential worker pay.

The Hazard Pay for Essential Workers Act

In November 2020 a group of House Democrats introduced H.R. 8349, officially titled the “Hazard Pay for Essential Workers Act.” Lead sponsor Rep. Ro Khanna of California explained the bill would provide essential employees a $13 per hour raise for work performed during the pandemic.

Some key details include:

  • The $13 hourly raise would be on top of regular pay and would be given from the beginning of the public health emergency in January 2020 until it ended.

  • Eligible workers would receive hazard pay for up to 1,200 hours of work during the covered period.

  • Both public and private employers would pay the hazard pay, but could apply for federal grants to cover the cost.

Challenges Facing the Hazard Pay Bill

Even though it got a lot of good press when it was first introduced, the Hazard Pay for Essential Workers Act will have to work hard to become law. Some of the challenges include:

  • Narrow eligibility – By limiting hazard pay to frontline workers, many essential employees would still be left out such as warehouse workers, farmworkers, utility workers, and many government employees.

  • Employer pushback – Business groups have resisted federal mandates for hazard pay, citing concerns over costs and regulatory burdens.

  • ** Republican opposition** – Gaining bipartisan support would be essential in the Senate. But most Republicans have called hazard pay proposals unnecessary.

  • Cost – With its broad eligibility, the price tag for this bill could approach $180 billion according to some estimates. That large cost makes passage unlikely without offsets.

  • Alternative relief – Policymakers argue earlier stimulus checks, enhanced unemployment aid, and the Paycheck Protection Program already provided substantial relief to many workers.

What Are the Bill’s Chances in Congress?

Despite concerted union lobbying efforts and support amongst progressive Democrats, the Hazard Pay for Essential Workers Act remains unlikely to pass Congress and become law.

With the House controlled by Democrats and the Senate by Republicans, major differences over new spending make bipartisan agreement a challenge on hazard pay. While polls showed public support, the bill failed to gain momentum.

The original sponsors continue urging Congress to take action. But leaders have focused more recently on broader economic recovery plans versus targeted pay legislation.

Absent an unexpected breakthrough, the road ahead looks difficult for this federal hazard pay bill despite its worthy policy goals. However, the concept could see new life in future pandemic preparedness and response planning discussions.

Could States or Localities Enact Hazard Pay?

Given the hurdles at the federal level, could state and local governments step in on hazard pay? The short answer is yes, this represents a potential alternative avenue.

For example, in January 2021 the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved ordinances requiring large grocery and pharmacy retailers to provide an extra $5 per hour in hazard pay for frontline workers. Cities like Seattle and Long Beach passed similar laws.

While lawsuits and preemption battles have followed in some areas, the local approach demonstrates the minimum wage playbook can be adapted to mandate baseline hazard pay.

On a statewide level, legislation providing premium pay to essential workers has been discussed but not yet enacted anywhere. But the idea could gain wider consideration as recognizing frontline worker contributions to the pandemic response remains popular.

Closing Thoughts

While the “Hazard Pay for Essential Workers Act” itself appears unlikely to become law, it elevated an important issue and laid groundwork for future action. Essential employees faced real risks and hardships. They deserve compensation for that service.

The COVID-19 experience provides a blueprint Congress could follow during future crises. Hazard pay legislation may yet be revisited down the road. For now, state and local governments can lead by pioneering immediate pay initiatives. But the door should remain open on federal proposals as the pandemic recovery continues.

Our essential workers were there when we needed them most. We now must be there to ensure they are fairly compensated for their sacrifices. Hazard pay provides a pathway to demonstrate our gratitude while upholding economic dignity for millions of everyday heroes.

Will Hazard Bill Pay Passed

Is Hazard Pay Mandatory?

An employee will generally only receive hazardous duty pay for the hours worked in hazardous conditions. For example, if an employee works an eight-hour shift and four of those hours are spent in an air-conditioned office while four are spent doing construction in 100-degree heat, only the hours worked in the high-heat conditions will be at the hazard pay rate.

No federal or statewide laws require private-sector employers to provide hazard pay. Small-business owners can decide to offer this type of pay if a worker performs duties that expose them to risk.

But hazard pay may be required for certain government workers. According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s COVID-19 guidelines, federal employees are entitled to a 25 percent pay increase if their duties expose them to “virulent biologicals” such as COVID-19. A few localities have also instituted hazard pay laws.

If you’re unsure whether you’re required to offer hazard pay, head to your state or local government’s website and search for hazard pay laws. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) doesn’t specify who must receive hazard pay and when. But the FLSA does say that hazard pay for government employees should be calculated as part of the employee’s regular wages when overtime pay is involved.

Jobs Eligible for Hazard Pay

  • Logging: Logging workers work long, laborious days, with dangers arising from both the machinery involved and the job’s physical demands. Workers are often expected to work the entire day cutting up trees, typically in high places where things move fast. With unstable or rough terrain coupled with inclement weather, logging can be one of the most dangerous jobs out there.
  • Commercial fishing: Commercial fishing is very different from fishing for leisure. This is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, with fishermen being 42 times more likely to meet a fatality at work than workers in other fields.

The environment is very dangerous in the middle of the ocean, and fishermen often aren’t trained properly. Without that proper training, individuals won’t know how to use lifesaving equipment or resources.

It’s also a competitive market, with fishermen tapping into limited supplies or resources. By engaging in a race to catch fish, you’ll find that fishermen are more likely to venture out in dangerous conditions.

  • Pilots: Pilots are highly trained individuals, but the statistics don’t lie – it’s one of the world’s most dangerous jobs. This job requires high vigilance, which can create high-stress environments that lead to other health concerns. Because of the time spent in high altitudes, pilots can face unique health issues such as deep vein thrombosis, dehydration, and high rates of skin cancer.
  • Roofers: Working on roofs is a job that can make your stomach drop. A single fall can kill you, but that’s not the only hazard you’ll need to watch out for. Burns from volatile tar, exposed power lines, and injuries from falling debris are just a few risks these individuals might face on a daily basis.
  • Trash collectors: Although this might seem like a fairly simple job, it’s actually relatively dangerous. Navigating broken materials like the glass is a common cause of injury, as is moving trash bags that might contain things like broken glass or metal blades, resulting in serious injury. The truck is also a dangerous piece of equipment that you’ll need to be properly trained to use.
  • Truck drivers: Transportation incidents account for 40% of fatalities annually, making a truck driver’s job fairly dangerous. However, one of the most common injuries occurs due to fatigue. Most truck drivers drive for hours on end, and fatigue can cause a dangerous accident, not only for the driver but for others on the road.
  • Farmers: Despite popular belief, farming is one of the most dangerous professions in the world. OSHA lists farm machinery and equipment, agricultural chemicals, grain bins, livestock management and handling, inclement weather including sun and heat, toxic gasses, and wells as some of the most dangerous farming hazards associated with this job.
  • Construction: The work of a construction worker is inherently dangerous, and individuals who choose this career path are typically exposed to hazardous work conditions on a daily basis. This could put them at risk for injury from falls, machinery, or structural collapses.
  • Lawn care and landscaping: The most dangerous part of this work is being exposed to the outdoor elements. Landscapers face environmental hazards, such as long hours in the sun that could lead to heatstroke and lead to adverse long-term effects like skin cancer.

Hazard pay could help Idaho wildland firefighter recruiting efforts


Does OSHA require hazard pay?

California does not have a law that requires employers to provide hazardous duty pay. Though some employers choose to provide hazard pay to their full-time or part-time employees.

Who qualifies for hazard pay in Texas?

Certain state employees perform hazardous duties and are eligible for hazardous duty pay. Commissioned law enforcement officers or custodial officers are eligible for hazardous duty pay of $10 a month for each 12-month period of lifetime service credit.

What is hazard pay for federal employees?

Hazardous duty pay is additional pay for the performance of hazardous duty or duty involving physical hardship. Hazardous duty pay is payable to General Schedule (GS) employees covered by chapter 51 and subchapter III of chapter 53 of title 5, United States Code.

Do contractors get hazard pay?

Contractors will sometimes offer hazardous duty pay as an incentive to employees performing work under unusually dangerous situations. These incentives vary among contractors and may reflect differences in individual circumstances. Such incentives are to be evaluated for reasonableness on a case-by-case basis.

Did the Federal hazard pay bill include essential workers?

That bill did not include any hazard pay for essential workers. It also excluded new state and local aid, which would shore up struggling state and local government budgets with the funds necessary to keep public sector frontline essential workers employed. The result was dimmed prospects for any federal hazard pay.

Who gets hazard pay if the Heroes Act becomes law?

Also, each state government will have the final say on who gets approved for hazard pay if The Heroes Act does become law. Here are some of the most common essential workers. childcare workers, cafeteria workers and others who must necessarily support the ability of other essential workers to be able to work.

How many versions of the hazard pay bill are there?

There is one version of the bill. To provide hazard pay to frontline essential workers employed during the COVID–19 pandemic.

Who is the sponsor of the hazard pay bill?

To provide hazard pay to frontline essential workers employed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill’s titles are written by its sponsor. Sponsor. Representative for New Jersey’s 2nd congressional district. Republican. This bill was introduced on September 22, 2020, in a previous session of Congress, but it did not receive a vote.

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