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When Is An Employee Entitled To Hazard Pay?

Legally speaking, the answer is “never.” There is no state or federal regulation that requires any profession or job category to offer hazard pay, and the only regulation that refers to hazard pay is one that says employers have to factor in the higher hourly rate when they calculate overtime pay.

However, employees with dangerous jobs will be happy to know that the reality of hazard pay isn’t nearly as simple as the regulations. There are plenty of jobs that offer hazard pay, but the reason has less to do with danger and more to do with changing working conditions.

The Definition

The term “hazard pay” refers to a higher hourly rate or a bonus paid to a salaried employee who has to take a serious risk on the job. The nature of this risk can be anything, but it includes all kinds of situations where even the best safety equipment and procedures still leave a significant chance of bodily harm, death, or permanent physical or mental damage. This can include:

• Working with dangerous chemicals and pathogens
• Hostile environments like barren deserts and the Antarctic continent
• Active war zones
• Mines
• Construction sites

Why You Might Not Get Hazard Pay

Working in a dangerous environment or working a job with a high fatality rate like logger or fisher doesn’t entitle you to hazard pay, but the reason is actually very simple. If you cut down trees and load them on trucks all day, then there’s no reason for you to have two hourly wages. You get a high wage because you’re always in danger, and so there’s no reason to call any part of it “hazard pay.”

Instead, hazard pay comes in when only part of your job is dangerous. For instance, the supervisor for an underground mine might spend most of his or her time pushing papers in an office on the surface and only enter the mine for 1-2 hours to inspect the workers and deal with problems. So the supervisor will get a lower wage while he or she is topside, and a higher wage—the hazard pay—while actively in the mine. A journalist might get a regular salary throughout the year and a bonus for spending days in a war zone.

Hazards And Lawsuits

Because employees aren’t entitled to hazard pay, you can’t sue to receive it unless your employer promised higher pay and didn’t deliver. Instead, you can refuse to enter a dangerous situation, although if that danger is an expected part of your job you may be fired.

The biggest issue, at least as far as workplace injury lawsuits go, is whether or not your employer or supervisor sufficiently explained the danger to you before you put yourself in harm’s way. A roofer would have to warn a new employee that working on a baking rooftop three stories off the ground is surprisingly dangerous, and an editor needs to explain how unstable or war-torn an area was before sending a journalist to cover the situation.

Failure to pay a hazard bonus isn’t worth a lawsuit, although the employer does risk losing its employees to companies that do pay what a hazard is worth. But failure to warn an employee about dangers before one such danger injures or kills the employee is definitely grounds for a personal injury or wrongful death suit. So if you don’t see or hear enough warnings, contact your workplace regulator, and if a workplace hazard takes you by surprise, contact a workplace injury lawyer.