Wake, Durham counties end hazard pay for employees amid pandemic

Coronavirus

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Amid growing COVID-19 concerns, CBS 17 has learned both Wake and Durham counties have decided to end hazard pay for employees.

Wake County was paying more than 4,000 employees hazard pay from April until the end of November.

A county spokesperson said the special pay was put into effect due to a shortage of PPE and coronavirus testing was limited.

But now county leaders believe the situation is different.

In a statement to CBS 17, a county spokesperson said:

In April, shortly after COVID-19 first touched our community, Wake County Government offered special pay to two groups of employees:

Those responding to the public health emergency; and
Staff – like paramedics and Sheriff’s deputies – whose jobs can’t be done remotely and require direct public interaction.

The county put the special pay in effect for several reasons. We didn’t have sufficient PPE on hand, testing for COVID-19 in our community was limited, and we didn’t have the protective measures such as Plexiglas shields, temperature screenings and social distancing markers in place to protect employees, as well as customers. Plus, we were operating in emergency response mode.

Eight months later, the situation is much different. We’ve transitioned from an emergency response to a public health response. We have a six-month supply of PPE on hand, testing for the virus is widely available, and protective measures are in place countywide. In addition, the Governor has put restrictions in place – including a mask requirement – to slow the spread of the virus.

As part of the shift to back to more routine operations, Wake County will no longer offer special COVID-19 pay allowances to any employee, starting Dec. 1. We communicated this change to our more than 4,000 team members on Nov. 6. We appreciate the hard work of all our team members during this challenging time, and we’re proud of the roles they’ve played in keeping our community healthy and safe.

The City of Durham ended its hazard pay in June.

“The money is just simply not there, people are not working, businesses are not open, the city is not taking in and the county is not taking in the monies,” said Terence Smith, a firefighter for Durham city for almost 27 years and president of the Bull City Professional Firefighters Association .

After almost three decades on the job, Smith said this year has been the most challenging.

“We see more death, more sickness. Our morale is down across the board. You ask a nurse, ask an emergency room worker ask a policeman all of us are tired.”

Durham County sent to an email to all of its employees alerting them the 10 percent hazard pay they had been receiving was put on pause starting Dec. 1.

In a statement, a Durham county spokesperson said:

Per Board advisement, the County Manager placed the differential pay on pause until further analysis and for an evaluation of the expense through the remaining of the fiscal year.

As reflected in the communication to staff, because the 10% differential/hazardous pay is on “pause” and has not officially ended, the time associated with the differential/hazardous pay is continuing to be captured.

Meaning retroactive payment will occur to align with hazardous pay recommendations should the 10% differential/hazardous pay be reinstated.

A decision has not yet been made as to whether to reinstate or discontinue. Data analysis and evaluation has not yet been completed.

The County Manager will update the Board of County Commissioners in ensuing weeks. The County is not opposed to resuming hazard pay depending on the outcome of the additional data analysis and evaluation and, if after the mid-year review, circumstances dictate and allow.

From March 6 through Dec. 11, the last paycheck reflecting hazard pay, Durham County spent $3.9 million on differential pay over two fiscal years.

Of that amount, $2.4 million came from the $506 million budget that includes the general fund, risk management, and reevaluation and sewer utility funds.

Wake County has paid out $4,618,400 in hazard pay.

Smith said the extra money gave first responders a sense of security while working on the front lines of this pandemic.

“If times got tight, we’d have a little extra set aside…it gave us peace of mind,” Smith said.

Durham County leaders said they’re not opposed to resuming hazard pay and since it is on pause that time is still being captured.

Employees could get that pay retroactively but it will depend on a review taking place next year.

Wake County and the City of Durham have not commented on resuming hazard pay.

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