(Updated at 10:35 on 2/12/2021) Fairfax County government workers whose jobs put them at high risk of exposure to COVID-19 will now receive $2,000 in hazard pay, an increase from the $1,500 that county staff initially recommended in January.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the one-time bonuses on Tuesday (Feb. 9) before directing staff to look for additional funding to cover bonuses for all employees.
“It has been something to watch the response of our county employees over the past year to this pandemic,” Board Chairman Jeff McKay said after introducing the motion. “To be able to do this and have the resources available to reward these employees and thank them is absolutely critical.”
While the board expanded the program to include limited-term employees as well as merit employees, it backed staff’s suggestion of using the Virginia Occupational Safety and Health COVID-19 risk assessment to determine workers’ eligibility for hazard pay.
When the proposal first came to the board during its budget committee meeting on Jan. 12, some supervisors expressed concern about leaving out workers who could contract COVID-19 while on the job but don’t meet the VOSH standards for their risk level to be classified as “high” or “very high.”
The board planned to vote on hazard pay on Jan. 26, but the decision was postponed so that county staff could continue talks with the Fairfax County government employees’ union, SEIU Virginia 512, and other workers’ groups, which were advocating for hazard pay to be available to all employees.
Because the hazard pay comes from CARES Act relief funds, Fairfax County staff say federal guidelines dictate that the money must be limited to employees whose duties involve physical hardship directly related to pandemic emergency response efforts.
The approved proposal will cost an estimated $9.2 million, keeping it within the $10 million allocation that the Board of Supervisors set aside from the county’s coronavirus relief fund for hazard pay.
A broader hazard pay plan would have to use county funds, which McKay previously told Tysons Reporter would be “unlikely” to happen with the fiscal year 2022 budget. County Executive Bryan Hill will present an FY 2022 budget proposal to the board on Feb. 23.
The Board of Supervisors instead hopes to find the money for more bonuses in its FY 2021 budget through a third-quarter review that will be approved when the FY 2022 budget is marked up on Apr. 27.
“I think this is exactly the type of environment that we’re in right now that contributes to making bonuses a practical, doable solution to really value the work of all of our county employees at a time when we can’t do all of the things we’d like to do,” McKay said.
For the FY 2021 third-quarter review, staff have also been asked to evaluate the county’s leave programs and determine if new options can be provided to employees who have been unable to take advantage of existing programs due to the nature of their job.
SEIU Virginia 512 Executive Board President Tammie Wondong says the union was glad that Fairfax County ultimately included limited-term employees in its hazard pay plan, but more still needs to be done to ensure all workers are fairly compensated during the pandemic and beyond — something she argues can only be guaranteed if the union gets collective bargaining powers.
“We are headed in the right direction, because the fact is we were heard, and we got their attention,” Wondong said. “That’s the most important thing, that they heard us and they responded. It’s not fixed. We’ve still got a lot more work to do, but…now we’re able to continue to lift our voices and talk about how it continues to impact us, with the pandemic that’s going on and how people are risking their lives just to be out there.”
Staff photo by Jay Westcott