COVID-19 | Finances | Original Content

Hazard Pay for Nurses: Where is it a Year Later?

  • Hazard pay for nurses, or the lack thereof, continues to frustrate nurses across the country on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Legislative hold-ups, healthcare administration choices, and loose definitions of hazard pay qualifications continue to add to the problem.
  • Will nurses ever see a hazard pay boost to their paychecks? The current outlook isn’t promising.
Morgan Curry, RN/BSN

Morgan Curry, BSN / RN

Intensive Care, Outpatient Surgery, Aesthetics, Education, and Nursing Leadership

March 12, 2021
Simmons University

Are nurses essential? Heck ya they are! Are they an essential part of battling this pandemic that we have all found ourselves stuck in the middle of for the last year? Ummm…yep! Then where has the hazard pay for nurses been hiding out?!

Over the last year, many nurses in practice have been faced with the hardships of caring for patients with COVID-19, either by choice or by necessity. They have faced infection risk, emotional toil, discomfort, and distress, yet few nurses have received the adequate compensation they deserve for this. 

As nurses across the country continue to battle COVID-19, many of whom persevered through the PPE shortage at its onset spread, hazard pay continues to be missing from many nursing paychecks.

Do Nurses Qualify for Hazard Pay?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, hazard pay is loosely characterized as, “additional pay for performing hazardous duty or work involving physical hardship.”

The U.S. Department of Commerce further explains this concept adding that hazard pay is applicable when “the physical hardship or duty has not been considered in the classification of the position.”  

Why then, have most nurses not seen an extra penny for working through the unprecedented hardships and risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, that are far beyond the normalcies of their nursing position?

Because many at the top of the healthcare industry work with money, not in the down and dirty of the COVID units, where people are dying in an ICU as code bells ring every five minutes. You certainly won’t find them in a busy emergency room, where the triage is inundated with lethargic people struggling to breathe. 

As nurses across the country continue to battle COVID-19, many of whom persevered through the PPE shortage at its onset spread, hazard pay continues to be missing from many nursing paychecks. 

In March 2021, in an opinion piece to The Seattle Times, nurse Ashley Cantu explains how the struggle to define hazard pay is a continued factor in nurses not receiving it. “I believe that my bruised face from strapping on N95 masks for hours at a time and prolonged emotional distress cover the basis of their definition,” Cantu writes.

However, despite reaching out to her hospital, nursing union, and local government in search of a hazard pay policy for front line nurses, “no relief is on the way,” she explained. 


Missing Hazard Pay for Nurses Adds to Burnout

What’s the Hold Up?

In the Spring of 2020, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security mapped out 17 classes of workers who were deemed “essential critical infrastructure workers” and thus eligible for pandemic-related hazard pay, which naturally included healthcare workers.

“Then what’s the hold-up?”

Well, many nurses have not seen this money yet because the proposals that would have allocated said funds were stalled in the legislative process in Washington in 2020.  

Lawmakers recently approved a new $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill. However, it is unclear from the 628-page piece of legislation how that proposal would impact hazard pay.

That brings us to where we are now. March of 2021, almost a year after the impacts of the pandemic landed its first punch on day-to-day life and healthcare systems.

Nearly a year of lives lost, people struggling, nurses drowning in short-staffed shifts, patients sicker than ever with almost no explanation as to the pathophysiology behind the disease, and still no clear answer as to why has hazard pay has not become a priority.

Do our community, state, and national leaders, as well as high-ranking healthcare administrators, not realize that without nurses, patient care is nearly impossible?

Will this realization come when it is them or their loved one lying in an ICU bed? They will certainly want a nurse that is not burned-out, well-compensated, sharp, and comfortable to provide them or their loved one competent, compassionate, life-saving care.

According to the White House, the latest relief proposal would “call on employers to meet their obligations to essential front line workers and provide back hazard pay,” however, no direct allocation of funds or actionable enforcement is mentioned; leaving nurses at the mercy of employers to do what the White House says is their “duty to do right by their essential front line workers.”

If moral obligation was enough to motivate people in positions of power to allocate well deserved hazard pay to nurses on the front lines, nurses would have already seen a boost in their paychecks by now.

I wouldn’t hold my breath on the latest legislative efforts to bring any sort of real, tangible relief to the lack of hazard pay injustices for healthcare workers.

Hazard Pay for Nurses Stalls in Washington

So… What Can We Do?

Right now, the sad and sobering truth is…not much of anything. It will ultimately be up to your institution to determine what is deemed “earned and deserved” by their standards.

In the meantime, we will continue to work hard, channeling every ounce of our intellectual, emotional, and physical capabilities into the dedication of caring for our patients. Our hope is that this long road we have been walking will soon come to an end.

Until then, stay strong, stay safe, and NURSE ON!

Love what you read?
Share our insider knowledge and tips!

Read More