[COLUMN] The ‘Hero Pay’: LA enacts $5 hourly hazard pay for grocery & pharmacy employees

IT has been over year since California declared a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, many employees have stopped coming to their workplaces and have worked from home instead. However, those who were considered “frontline” workers do not have the option of working at home. Considered “essential” to the functioning of society, these workers have to do their jobs where they customarily work.

California defines “essential workers” as those who conduct a range of operations and services that are typically critical to protecting communities, ensuring continuity of functions in public health and safety, as well as economic and national security.

Some of the lower paid essential workers include grocery and drug retail workers in Los Angeles. In an effort to recognize their sacrifice and alleviate their financial difficulties, the city of Los Angeles enacted an ordinance that mandates some employers to pay $5 per hour to these employees. The same hazard pay applies to those working in unincorporated areas of the county.

The county lawmakers acknowledge that essential grocery and drug retail workers who report to work to do their jobs have substantial interaction with the public and significant exposure to COVID-19. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that the virus spreads more readily indoors, and because essential grocery and drug retail workers must perform their jobs inside, with large crowds, they’re exposed to more hazards. Lawmakers acknowledge that these workers likely live with the fear that as they go out every day to do their job, they will contract COVID-19 and bring the disease to their homes and families.

Because of the sacrifice of these essential workers, families continue to have access to the food, medicines, and household supplies they need to carry on with their lives. Grocery and drug retail workers’ tasks have also multiplied and now include wearing masks during their shift, practicing social distancing, and constantly wiping down high touch areas to ensure public safety.

Many grocery and drug retail workers are People of Color who were already facing social and financial inequities before the pandemic. The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on them makes this ordinance necessary in order to lessen their difficulties.

Meanwhile, the Brookings Institution reported that from November 2020, top retail companies throughout the country have earned on average an extra $16.7 billion in profits in 2020. However, this increased wealth has not transferred to the low-wage frontline workers who risk their lives to support these business operations.

This premium hazard pay seeks to help low-wage frontline workers, encourage them to keep working, and assist them in protecting their health and welfare and that of their families, and the wider community.

This ordinance applies to employees who work for employers with 300 employees nationwide, and more than ten employees on-site in the City. Workers must work at least two hours at a grocery retail store (that sells primarily food or household goods, including the sale of produce, meats, poultry, fish, deli products, dairy products, canned foods, dry foods, beverages, baked foods, and/or prepared foods), or a drug retail store (that sells prescription and nonprescription medicines).

This premium hazard pay is additional pay owed to an employee in addition to the employee’s salaries, wages, tips, overtime, commissions, piece rate, bonuses, rest breaks, paid leave, and reimbursement for expenses. The mandate took effect on February 26, 2021 and should last for 120 days.

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The Law Offices of C. Joe Sayas, Jr. welcomes inquiries about this topic. All inquiries are confidential and at no-cost. You can contact the office at (818) 291-0088 or visit www.joesayaslaw.com. [For more than 25 years, C. Joe Sayas, Jr., Esq. successfully recovered wages and other monetary damages for thousands of employees and consumers. He was named Top Labor & Employment Attorney in California by the Daily Journal, consistently selected as Super Lawyer by the Los Angeles Magazine, and is a past Presidential Awardee for Outstanding Filipino Overseas.]

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