Federal employees forced to work during coronavirus outbreak sue for hazard pay

VA hospital
Photo credit Getty: Michael Loccisano / Staff

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) has filed a lawsuit on behalf of essential employees working for the federal government whose job likely exposes them to the coronavirus.

“Each day front-line federal employees willingly risk their health and their families’ health to provide critical services to the American people. It is our hope that the government does right by these employees and pays them the hazardous duty pay they’ve earned,” Everett Kelley who is the President of AFGE said in a prepared statement.

The lawsuit includes employees of Veteran's Affairs. Doctors and healthcare workers in VA hospitals are almost certainly exposed or will be exposed, to COVID-19 judging from the steadily increasing numbers of patients reported by VA.

 “Department of Veterans Affairs employees, including janitorial and maintenance staff, have also been working for weeks in facilities where there have been documented cases of COVID-19.  All of these men and women, and many others working in jobs across the federal government, have met the legal standards outlined in Title 5 and the government needs to give them their hazard pay differential,” said Heidi Burakiewicz, a partner at Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman & Fitch which is the law firm filing the suit.

VA, like other hospitals around the country, is contending with shortages of medical equipment and health care professionals as they become overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

An Inspector General report noted that "facility leaders expressed concerns related to supplies needed to test patients for COVID-19. They also acknowledged low inventory of personal protective equipment for staff.” 

The lawsuit alleges that the "plaintiffs are entitled to a 25% hazard pay differential under Title 5, because they were exposed to 'hazardous working conditions through the performance of their assigned duties and that the hazardous duty had not been taken into account in the classification of their positions.' A 'virulent biological' like the coronavirus would clearly qualify as a hazard under Title 5. Similarly, Wage Grade (WG) plaintiffs are entitled to an 8% environmental pay increase for exposure to micro-organisms."

As of this weekend, VA was treating 1,166 veterans who were infected with COVID-19. 

Connecting Vets reached out to VA for a statement but had not heard back by the time of publication. 

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Reach Jack Murphy: jack@connectingvets.com or @JackMurphyRGR.