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Understanding Hazard Pay

With almost a million confirmed and presumptive cases, the novel coronavirus COVID-19 has impacted the lives of every single person. “Stay at Home” orders have been put in place in order to slow the spread of the virus and keep people safe. However, many federal employees do not have this option; thus, putting them at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 and spreading it to others.

Many federal employees are considered essential employees, which means they must do their duties in their offices. Because these jobs require federal employees to work in close proximity to the public, they are on the front lines of being exposed to the virus.

Since there is a potential risk associated with performing these job duties, can federal employees obtain additional pay for putting their lives in danger? The attorneys at The Law Firm of John P. Mahoney, Esq., Attorneys at Law, PLLC explain what options there are for federal employees during this unprecedented situation.

What is Hazard Pay?

Every day, thousands of government employees risk their health while at work. According to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), certain employees can obtain additional pay for the performance of hazardous duties or duties involving physical hardship through hazard pay, or environmental differential pay. General Schedule (GS) employees and prevailing rate or wage grade employees that do not have prior hazardous conditions listed in their job classification are eligible to receive hazard pay.

To be eligible for the hazard pay differential, the agency must determine that the employee is exposed to a qualifying hazard through the performance of his or her assigned duties and that the hazardous duty has not been taken into account in the classification of the employee’s position.

Hazard Pay for Federal Employees Due to COVID-19

Federal employees who have been exposed to COVID-19 due to work, they may be able to qualify for hazard pay. In Appendix A of the Code of Federal Regulations, GS employees may receive additional pay if it is the code’s list of approved hazard pay differentials. One of the listed conditions states that a 25% hazard pay differential is authorized for employees exposed to “virulent biologicals.”

Exposure to virulent biologicals happens when someone is working with or in close proximity to materials of micro-organic nature that are likely to cause serious illness or death when introduced into the body.

The agency will have to prove that the employee was exposed to the qualifying hazard due to performing their job duties and that the hazardous duty hasn't been taken into account in the classification of the worker’s position. Hazard pay is not awarded if the agency has safety precautions in place that significantly reduce the risk of exposure to the hazardous element.

According to the OPM, “Federal Wage System (FWS) employees may not receive an environmental differential for incidental exposure to the pandemic COVID-19.” This is because the environmental differential for wage grade employees is additional pay for work-related exposure to hazards, physical hardships, or severe working conditions that cannot be reduced or eliminated by preventative measures. The environmental differential isn’t meant to be used for compensating employees for exposure to a safety risk unrelated to their assigned duties.

Unfortunately, there is no authority in the hazardous duty pay or environmental differential statutes that state if potential exposure is an eligibility requirement for hazard pay. The local agency must be able to find credible evidence that shows exposure occurred due to the duties the employee must perform in order to do their job.

To determine whether an employee will receive hazard pay, the agency will be responsible for deciding if the employee’s work duties meet the requirements. Typically, agencies will decide this on a case-by-case basis with the help of occupational safety and health experts.

Protecting Federal Employees

Federal employees are jeopardizing their health to ensure our country keeps running. If you are not receiving hazard pay even though you meet the qualifications, the attorneys at The Law Firm of John P. Mahoney, Esq., Attorneys at Law, PLLC are here to defend your rights and help you obtain the compensation you deserve.

To discuss your legal rights as a federal employee, call The Law Firm of John P. Mahoney, Esq., Attorneys at Law, PLLC today at (202) 350-3881.