COVID Labor Law Changes To Keep An Eye On

COVID Labor Law Changes To Keep An Eye On

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed what we perceive as dangerous work or essential workers. Healthcare professionals have been rightly recognized as the heroes in the health emergency that continues to take the world by storm.

Yet, other workers - such as those in grocery stores, warehouses, and public transport - have been exposed to risk levels that they had not foreseen or prepared for.

Nonetheless, these key workers were also the ones who kept the Nation running through the deadly waves of Covid-19, various lockdowns, and panic-buy frenzies. Of these 50 million key workers, under half did not earn enough to support their families - even before the drastic financial consequences of the pandemic.

So, it became evident that labor laws and Hazard Pay regulations needed to be reviewed to help communities across the Nation. As the federal government struggles to meet the individual demands of various regions, a new phenomenon emerged: the local governments took charge.

Understanding Hazard Pay in the Age of Covid-19

Hazard Pay is a form of financial support that aims at increasing the salary of workers performing tasks in dangerous environments. Hazard Pay commonly comes with a hazard premium, which increases the hourly wage by 10% - or it can also be paid as a flat-rate stipend.

Before the pandemic, professionals in the military, construction, and mining would receive Hazard Pay for hours worked in less safe conditions. And, employers across the Nation have often used this response to the risks that frontline workers face every day.

However, as the pandemic continues to claim victims in the US and worldwide, the definition of “dangerous work conditions” has also changed.

Workers in public-facing roles have found themselves at a heightened risk and with just a minimum wage to support them.

Since the start of the pandemic, millions of frontline workers urged the federal government to approve a wage raise for the duration of the pandemic, which would have helped them cope with the financial backlash and added challenges.

What is Happening Around the Nation?

Amidst an increasing number of professionals losing their job, business closures, and skyrocketing unemployment rates, Congress brought forward ambitious Hazard Pay plans to help communities across the Nation.

Among the most important proposals is the Heroes Fund in April 2020, Patriot Pay in May 2020, Heals Act in July 2020, and an updated Heroes Act in September 2020. All of these proposals, which included grants, Hazard Pay options, or additional funding, have stalled, creating a considerable gap between the promised financial help and the one that essential workers received.

At this point, several state and local governments took the matter into their hands, creating community-wise Hazard Pay initiatives for their essential workers who earn low or minimum wages. Compared to the federal initiatives, these programs had a small reach, but it did not take long for individual states to start helping their communities.

Leveraging the CARES Act approved in March 2020 as an economic relief funding, some states began to finance their own Hazard Pay programs.

Some of the first responses were:

  • Pennsylvania offered a one-time payment of $1200 to essential workers, helping a total of 41,587 people.
  • Vermont offered a one-time payment of $1200 or $2000, helping 15,650 workers
  • Louisiana offered a flat-rate payment of $250, supporting over 100,000 workers - with 114,000 workers still on their waiting list.

Shortly after, other states followed, such as:

  • Maryland allowed a raise of $3.13 per hour to over 15,000 employees
  • Virginia made a one-time payment of $1500 to over 43,500 essential workers
  • New Hampshire made $300 weekly payments to over 23,000 workers
  • Michigan offered one-time payments of $1,000 for first responders or a $2 increase on the hourly wage of direct care workers.

As help programs continue to sprout around the Nation, one case has become increasingly infamous - the one of Kroger, the country’s largest grocery store.

Kroger, as well as Amazon and Walmart, ended the Hazard Pay programs over the summer when non-essential shops had started to reopen.

The corporation, which left its workers without Hazard Pay for months, saw a sales increase over the pandemic of 8%. And, as the Los Angeles government approved a Hazard Pay of $5 per hour for workers in grocery stores, the company started to shut down some of the stores deemed as underperforming.

The action, which has inspired legal action via the California Grocers Association, has also caught the attention of governments and policymakers around the Nation.

How To Prepare For Future Trends

The Hazard Pay issue might not be directly relevant to you, but it is important not to overlook this trend. Indeed, the Hazard pay is only one of the support initiatives proposed by the government since the start of the pandemic - which included FMLA leave, FFCRA, and improved OSHA guidance.

The Hazard Pay effect is something to keep in mind when looking at the future trends in labor law. Indeed, what took place at a local and state level, has become a matter of national importance. Today we are on the verge of a new normal. However, some of the Labor Law Compliance regulations introduced over the past months are bound to become permanent changes. Here is what you can do to keep yourself, your business, and your employees compliant and safe.

Keep Yourself Updated

Especially in such a unique moment as a global pandemic, it can be difficult to foresee a sudden change in Labor laws. At the same time, if you are also trying to run your business and mitigate the damages that the pandemic has caused, you might not have so much time left to check the government and agency websites routinely. In this case, you should consider signing up for updates sent by a reliable source, such as the newsletter.

Leverage a Digital Solution for Labor Law Compliance

A digital solution such as the eViewer system is a great way to always be up to date with what is happening around the country. From remote working updates to essential workers’ support, a digital solution can help you keep you and your workforce updated on new compliance, regulations, and documents needed. If your company is transitioning towards remote working, a digital solution can be the most accessible way to keep everyone on the same page.

May 19th 2021 Donny Butts

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