Should Nurses Receive Hazard Pay During COVID-19?

Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC

Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC

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According to the U.S. Department of Labor, hazard pay is defined as “additional pay for performing hazardous duty or work involving physical hardship. Work duty that causes extreme physical discomfort and distress which is not adequately alleviated by protective devices is deemed to impose a physical hardship.” 

In terms of the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses and other essential workers are certainly in extreme discomfort and distress that is in no way alleviated by protective devices, yet precious few have seen any additional pay for their ongoing sacrifices and life-threatening service. Should they? 

Who Should Get Hazard Pay? 

As Congress continues to debate whether hazard pay or so-called “premium pay” will be part of any pandemic relief bill to be passed in the second half of 2020 (such measures have so far  failed), the definition of who should receive such pay has been much discussed. 

In an article on Debt.org, essential workers were defined in the original HEROES Act that passed the Housebut not the Senate as, “any individual who does essential work either as an employee or independent contractor. It also states that such work does not include teleworking from home but involves regular, in-person interaction with patients, the general public or with co-workers who perform such work, or by regularly physically handling items handled by patients, the public or co-workers who do that.”

A study by the Economic Policy Institute found that approximately 29% of workers were receiving some form of extra compensation due to the pandemic. The study concluded: 

“There is pervasive fear among workers of bringing the coronavirus home from work, especially among vulnerable workers with the least bargaining power, such as Black and Hispanic workers and low- and middle-income workers. These workers are not being protected by OSHA-established standards and they are also not receiving additional compensation in proportion to the risks they face. Workers are, however, being forced to work in order to sustain their families, and many are being denied unemployment benefits for not being willing to go to jobs they consider unsafe (Healy 2020). Workers are thus being forced to make unacceptable choices between economic sustenance and their health and their family’s health, a squeeze targeted at those with the least power in the labor market. Policies to protect workers’ health on the job as well as to provide decent pay and income maintenance are essential.”

Nurses and first responders often seem to be at the top of most lists of essential workers who are putting their lives on the line to help their fellow citizens, yet the definition of what an essential worker is can and should be quite more expansive than nurses and their healthcare colleagues.

Some unsung heroes of the COVID-19 healthcare frontlines are environmental service workers (sometimes known as housekeepers, maintenance and laundry workers, janitors, and related positions), as well as those who deliver meals and otherwise support patient care in doubtless essential ways that obviously keep healthcare facilities running smoothly. 

Other essential workers identified in various lists include those employed in: grocery stores, group homes for the developmentally disabled, waste disposal, dental offices, food production, package and mail delivery, gas stations, auto and bike repair, homeless shelters, disinfecting services, clinical research, hazardous materials, polls during elections, transportation, pharmacies, and many others.  

If we were to parse which workers should receive hazard pay or not, is there anyone mentioned above who is less deserving than another? While some unions have been able to negotiate such pay for their members, the conversation in Washington has been stuck in neutral throughout the pandemic. 

Nurses and Hazard Pay

Nurses certainly deserve pandemic-related hazard pay, as do their colleagues in both the clinical and non-clinical support realms. As of this writing, it appears that Congress and the federal government are undecided regarding how or whether to move forward with legislation that would support such an economic lifeline for countless Americans. 

While some nurses may belong to unions or work for employers who place a high enough value on their contributions during a globally existential threat to show that appreciation financially, most apparently do not.

For those hoping for additional pay akin to what unemployed Americans received in the first half of 2020 (an additional $600 per week on top of state benefits), few will likely be holding their breath. 

Nurses and other essential workers will continue to show up for work to feed their families and keep the lights on, as well as feeling called to do so as a moral and ethical obligation to society. Whether those individuals ever receive hazard pay from the government for going above and beyond the call of duty, we will eternally bow deeply in gratitude for their service. 

18 thoughts on “Should Nurses Receive Hazard Pay During COVID-19?”

  • Johna says:

    Nurses are well paid but all of the potential contact support personnel could use a boost.

  • Corrine Petras says:

    I do not feel nurses should get hazard pay even though I am a RN. We get paid adequately and first of all putting out more money increases the debt and our taxes will go up even more with all the handouts. It is bogus as where I work in the Pittsburgh area we have minimal covid cases. Our biggest problem is work as we have less patients. So what is the hazard pay for? This is getting ridiculous. Unemployed were getting an extra $600/week on top of unemployment and making more sitting home. They are laughing all the way to the bank with these $. So now you want health care workers to get hazard pay! Come on too much especially in my area.

  • Angela Jones says:

    I am a nurse and know we should get hazard pay. We are working under extremely difficult conditions to keep our patients safe. We do everything we can to keep COVID from spreading. I have been sick and had to use PTO while awaiting my COVID test results. Things have changed, such as the stress level, the discomfort of constantly wearing PPE (if people think surgical or homemade mask are uncomfortable, they should try to spend their day in an N-95), and the extra cleaning required between every patient. We’ve always been careful about keeping everything clean, but that has increased. I come home with a migraine every work day after wearing a mask and breathing fumes from bleach wipes. It may not sound like much, but it is.

    • A.Adams says:

      I am also an RN in Ohio. Last night after working 12 hrs with a 15 minute break , I heard someone banging on the front lobby door of my hospital. After he read the sign posted on the door , he began to curse and knock even harder. At this point I called security because visiting hours were over 1 hour ago. One male visitor was still inside the lobby and he told me he wanted to
      let him inside. I said ” no ” please do not do that. Unfortunately we don’t know if he has a weapon. He agreed with me.
      Security was my hero last night. Another point here is that all this pressure is building up in everyone by now.
      Our patients are loosing their patients with the ” new ” world and get very upset more easily.
      Do we desire more pay for all this, I agree !,,,,,

  • who wants gratitude i dont i want to get a home i have been working since i was 13 years old on the books and paying taxes for what so people who dont want to get a job because they make more sitting on their backside doing nothing while those of us who continue to work get further behind in bills and they dont worry about that as they are to busy buying cars, boats and what ever else they want with their free money from the government and businesses get extra money for what a new car for administration demanding more from the employees and giving them nothing everyone is benefiting except those doing the work why is that our country has become self centered giving more to those who do nothing how about the government doing without a paycheck bet they would fix things then it is ridiculous you need to quit your job just to survive or quit one job to get another and get extra money weekly from government as a BONUS what a joke

  • Kent Foret says:

    I’m an RN of 20 years. I’ve been paying taxes since I was 13 years old . I have not received a dime in hazard pay , yet millions of Americans received unemployment pay and the additional $1,200 and $600 a week just for staying home. I work 4 12hr shifts a week every week . Not that I need it but why isn’t myself and thousand of other health care workers deserving of the extra pay. Let us all stay home and see how many survive. I’m a very dedicated RN and would never do this. It makes you angry though.

  • Kelly Barker says:

    I am a Registered Nurse. I have continued to work during the pandemic. My work place thanks us for coming to work; however, we have not gotten any pay increases. I was exposed to a positive diagnosed COVID person, and missed a day of work as I waited for my COVID test results. When I returned to work I did get 5.5 hours of COVID pay not 8 hours. I have asked why I have not gotten my full 8 hour COVID pay , and I have never gotten a response. There is much more that I could talk about, but now is not the time. There are times when I do not know if I can work another shift and wear my mask. I don’t feel appreciated, and I have questioned why I ever became a nurse. The only retirement a nurse will get is what we pay into it, and our employer may match a very small percent. I don’t have life insurance, and the health insurance is not that great. I travel to get to work as well. I have been an RN for 26 years. I am a patient advocate, and I have strived to give safe care to my patients. What does it take for our Government to understand that a nurse is invaluable and important ? I definitely feel that we should get hazard pay, and in the future better benefits. I pray that God will continue to be with us as we care for our patients .

  • Aretha Carter, BSN RN says:

    Nurses and their ancillary colleagues should indeed receive Hazard Pay in relation to the Pandemic. Nurses have always willingly placed themselves in harms way in a means to proudly meet their calling. Until this Pandemic, we had the advantage of being well versed and practiced in the appropriate precautions to take to decrease chances of injuries to patients or ourselves.
    One challenge this BSN, RN employeed at the CTVHCS has noted is the disparity between which nurses should receive the Hazard, Bonus, or Premium pay.
    Those working on the COVID-19 Designated Unit OF COURSE MUST RECEIVE THIS! I can not even imagine how anyone would debate that fact.
    However, RN’s employed on the Acute Psychiatric Units, & Patient Care Coordinators who cover EVERY UNIT (Medical & Psychiatric) are not equally reimbursed on the same Basic Pay Scale scale, much less recipients of additional pay incentives.

    The Central Texas VA’s Acute Psychiatric Hospital is a separate Hospital from its Medical Hospital.
    It boosts separate Male & Female LOCKED UNITS. The teams have the privilege of caring for our Nations Heroes during one of their most vulnerable moments, during their Acute Psychiatric Distress.
    There has been an upsurge of Veterans presenting in a state of Psychotic Distress.

    The following are 3 SEEMINGLY EFFORTLESS means to intercept the spread of COVID-19:
    1. SOCIAL DISTANCING
    2. FREQUENT HAND HYGIENE
    3. WEARING MASKS.
    SEEMINGLY EFFORTLESS RIGHT…

    Stating the obvious, you are neither Mentally Healthy, nor at your optimum level of functioning during an Acute Psychiatric Crisis or Psychotic Episode. Many present with Poor Hygiene. The Veteran may be at such a level of Mental Distress that they can barely get out of bed or “function,” much less groom themselves.

    Please note that all Veterans on these units DO NOT have the same crisis level presentation as they do not have the same diagnosis, challenges, strengths, etc.

    During Acute Psychosis (Psychotic Episode) what occurs in that Veteran’s head, what is seen or heard there, is that Veteran’s reality.

    This reality is the Veteran’s sole focus, leaving the Veteran oblivious to hygiene needs.
    Relatable image for non medical persons: that Schizophrenic, disheveled, often mal-odorous person you see on the street talking to himself or herself. Now he or she becomes distressed, agitated, unsafe to remain outside of a Locked Psychiatric Hospital Unit.
    How effortless do you think those aforementioned precautions or interventions become when needed for this person?
    Now, let us migrate this person onto a small, locked unit with dual room occupancy.

    The Nurses, Social Workers, Aides Providers, etc who are on these locked units with the Veterans will not be able to utilize those recommended COVID-19 Interventions with those Veterans.

    You can not effectively teach these precautions to a psychotic, disorganized, paranoid, delusional Veteran.

    This Veteran is not functioning well enough to perform Basic Hygiene, so initiating frequent hand washing or use of hand Sanitizers, that may be ingested by this Veteran, is neither feasible nor safe.

    As a civilian RN working on the Medical Unit at the VA, I was always totally amazed and in awe of that often instantaneous Brotherhood or Sisterhood seen amongst Veterans.
    These are persons who never knew each other prior to this first meeting.
    What I find more amazing and awe provoking is how this also happens on an Acute Psychiatric Unit.
    The difference, this comradery
    amongst Veterans in Psychiatric Distress negates any chance of the engagement of social distancing.

    Not only should the Nurses, Aides, Care Coordinators, and Social Workers be on a Hospital instead of Clinic or Outpatient Pay Scale, they should also receive the illustrious or coveted Pandemic Hazard, Bonus, or Premium Pay.

  • Teabra porter says:

    Essential workers should be getting hazard pay

  • Jonie Hawkes says:

    YES. Absolutely nurses in all fields should recieve hazards pay,as well as housekeepers and kitchen aids anyone that may potentially be exposed to COVID-19. I am a labor and delivery RN and for the most part our patients are healthy,but what about the ones for example that come in ready to deliver and do so within less than an hour. No prenatal care and tell you after the baby delivers that they are COVID-19 POSITIVE just 4 days ago. Nurses doing the best they can to have a great outcome and perhaps forget thier PPE or dont have it readily available. Then what after an entire unit with newborns that has been exposed. What do we do now? Well apparently nothing,unless the nurses start showing signs or symptoms. Yes thats a true scenario. And yet still no hazards pay and must reuse are PPE over and over and over until it has been contaminated???????????((

  • KWHess says:

    Hello and good day…
    Not much to say here, except, I agree w/ this article. “We” NEED hazard pay. What we don’t need are Democrats shooting a bill down nor application waivers by facilities to go out of Title22 staffing ratios/compliance and having the Military step in to handle patient care(Central Valley, CA). Just pay “Us” MORE. Not the MDs nor facility administrators to admit “Someone of concern(PUI)”, so as to gain Federal Gov’t./Per Pt. bonuses for this. This is WRONG…!!! Anyway… $$$ PAY THE ESSENTIAL WORKERS and we’ll stay…
    That’s my “Soap Opera”. Y’all have a great, healthy and safe Monday…

  • Betty Roberson says:

    Anytime an employee is placed in a hazardous position on the job the must be compensated.

  • Martha Glenn says:

    As a nurse of 35 years, during the outbreak of MRSA, Aids and other medical events, there was no mention of hazardous pay. We just took care of our patients and treated all of them the same. We used universal precautions and our PPE on everyone. I believe if every nurse and people on the streets would practice these universal precautions, we could help prevent or at least limit the spread of COVID-19. It takes more than talk. You have to practice all the preventions.

  • Geraldine Cranston says:

    as a nurse we have not seen any hazard pay, we also still have to wear our masks 12hr shifts for 5 days in a row before replacing it, I know its not protecting me or the residents I care for, but its the law. I have an increased amount of headaches due to wearing a mask. and we have added work due to the virus. respiratory assessments on everyone. This is the first pay without them taking taxes out and it was nice. I also did not receive the stimulus check everyone else did. because its saying IRS is still processing taxes, my taxes are paid in full but i did owe this year from all the overtime last year. how long does it take for them to do our taxes. if i owed them still, it would have been done.

  • Karen Cizek says:

    Nurses and other health care workers are risking our lives and risking bringing the virus home to our families. We deserve hazzard pay.

  • BBnurse says:

    I am an RN and I work in corrections. We’ve had two outbreaks inside my particular prison; you can imagine how quickly it spreads in there. As a state employee and essential worker, we can be mandated. (not just during a pandemic but at anytime) Which means when we are at work, our supervisors can tell us at anytime that we aren’t going home and we will be there for an additional 8 hours. Because of the pandemic and need for extra staff, we are getting mandated quite often. Still, we show up everyday.
    By the time we realize there is an outbreak, many have been exposed. This does not constitute staying home unless we are exhibiting symptoms. I feel that we should definitely receive hazard pay. They actually took money from us! We are receiving a pay cut because we work for the state and they can do that. Our union tried fighting for us and they didn’t get very far.

    We don’t expect thanks or notoriety. However, we also didn’t expect to receive a ‘slap in the face’.

  • C Rabon says:

    Undecided…..especially when so many healthcare professionals only face an occasional covid + patient. In comparison to my hospital being completely full and covid only. Every unit in the hospital was covid except behaviorial health and L&D. My unit is covid until this becomes a normal isolation disease. The worst part wasnt the virus…but rather issues like lack of PPE to protect us and protect the patients from cross contamination..so us infecting a “clean” patient. It is the trauma of tying elderly dementia paatients to their beds to prevent them from constantly pulling NG tubes, removing their oxygen, and pulling IV lines..or PICCs even. It was tying mental health patients to their beds to prevent them from doing self harm … unsafe for sitters to be in the room and Avasys was of minimal when available. Trauma of getting a text that nobody can die this shift because the morgue is full. Or running out of body bags….in the hospital, day after day. Seeing the FEMA refrigerated trailer parkedby the employee entrance…and then watching a second one parked next to it the following week. ( i celebrated inside the day they disappeared again two months later ). There is the trauma of knowing that we are waitjng for 5 people to die …and watching another die on a portable vent waiting for a bed to open up in one of the makeshift ICUs…and knowing the only way a bed opens up is because someone died. Telling a person to call their spouse because we need to intubate them. To watch a person go from 95% on 2L to 15L on a non-rebreather and cant get the sats over 88% in a matter of hours. To watching people die alone because their family cant come jnto the hospital and we are told to minimjze our time in each room for our safety. To know we are a Catholic based hospital and not a single priest has been able to say last rights to those that believe it is necessary. And to talk to the families of the patients and tell them bad news over and over…. Do the healthcare providers who encountered one or two covid + patients need hazard pay? However, I know the environmental workers who cleaned these rooms did earn it…they were scared and many have chronic issues that make them high risk. I would make sure they were dressed in proper isolation gear and answered their fearful questions that no one had addressed. Do the nurses and staff who quit deserve hazard pay? Do the doctors who wouldnt go into patient rooms deserve hazard pay … for doing a phone or ipad visit when the nurse had to carry in the device and wait until the consult was completed to carry the ipad out and be given orders to input in the computer. The respiratory therapists earned double hazard pay…as well as the dialysis nurses who sat in the room for 2 to 4 hours monitoring the equipment and patient…this is what put an RN friend of mine on a ventilator himself for 3 weeks…. Maybe the hazard pay should reflect the real life experience of the essential worker? I had friends in other hospitals being told not to wear masks because it “scared the patients” even when the patient had obvious respiratory symptoms….and they got sick from whatever they were using to “clean” their one issued N95…replacements were not given regardless how old or smashed it was. My hospital did give us a one time payment of $500. They also were the only system in town that didnt lay anyone off when the covid census went down but we still werent allowed to do elective procedures. I’d just like a day or two off for mental health….but hospital is still short staffed after the mass exodus during the covid nightmare and any nurse not needed on their unit gets floated to one with a need.

  • sylvia says:

    Why is this question being posed here? Where is our ANA? Where is our State Nurses Associations? Silence!!! hollow, empty silence which is no surprise they are on vocal about JOINING these organizations, however, actions speak loud and they have yet to take center stage on platforms that actually affect nurses. I have attended meetings to hear what they have to say and no topic was related to front line nursing and our challenges and they ask why we do not join? I currently seeing the exploitation of COVID by these travel companies “EARN 4,000/WK” I get this all day long emails and texts so I started responding with questions regarding financial compensation if the nurse becomes sick and God Forbid ended up hospitalized. The response “You will be compensated” to which I replied “How, send it to me via email I want to know if my medical bills are covered and pay continues” not only do they stop texting and emailing I get no response. I am not currently a traveler, however, I did travel nursing 10years ago and they are the most at risk financially because of how these companies operate with health insurance coverage and pay.
    My position is our ANA and state Associations are doing nothing because they are cowardly and out of touch. They have an opportunity here to be vocal, loud, and advocates for healthcare workers and taking the position to compensate and protect front line teams. But they will not.

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