Hazard Pay: As the Pandemic Persists

February 15, 2021 - How does it pay to be on the front-lines?

As COVID-19 spread across Canada daily life became unrecognizable for many of us, but not for all. Schools closed, our homes became offices, or our jobs disappeared altogether. But front-line retail and production workers were thrust into the spotlight as they ensured there was food available, and we remained well stocked with flour and toilet paper.

Through every stage of lockdown, reopening, and restriction, many grocery and major retailers have remained open to serve us while following the ever-evolving public health guidelines. While companies across the country implemented hero pay for staff during the first wave, it is not a universal practice in the second wave as cases rise and lockdowns return.

There are four approaches found across Canada that companies are utilizing during the second wave:

  1. Pay increase in lockdown areas

Empire Co., which owns the chain of Sobeys grocery stores, has reinstated their hero pay program for stores located in lockdown areas across Canada. Hourly wage workers in lockdown areas will see anywhere between $10 and $100 per week added to their paycheck, depending on the hours they work. CEO Michael Medline stated that “if we ever faced the same level of lockdowns in a region or province like we saw in the early spring, we would bring a recognition program back for our teammates.”

Increasing wages for those in lockdown areas acknowledges the added pressures faced by front-line workers in essential services. This provides some recognition for their efforts in ensuring their community has access to products they need daily to remain comfortable during times of uncertainty.

  1. Permanent pay increase

After introducing the pandemic pay program on March 22, Chapman’s Ice Cream announced the decision to make their $2 per hour pay boost for production and distribution workers permanent. While also increasing the starting wage for production employees to $18 per hour. VP of Chapman’s Ice Cream, Ashley Chapman, noted that the company was “stepping forward to embrace a living wage that our employees needed, pandemic or not.”

While the pandemic exacerbated the stressors that are placed on workers across Canada, this initiative asserts that a pay increase is necessary for a sustainable income regardless of the risk an employee is facing.

  1. Pay Bonuses

A more common choice by major retailers across Canada is to opt for pay bonuses to express appreciation for front-line workers. This can come in the form of a one-time bonus, or a bonus paid out on a recurring basis. Walmart recently announced that they will provide a one-time bonus of $250 for full-time employees and $150 for part-time employees.

Bonuses of $300 for full-time and $150 for part-time employees were paid out in March, August, and October to Lowe’s Canada employees, on top of the $2 per hour wage premium provided from April to July.

Home Depot Canada is providing an ongoing weekly bonus of $100 for full-time employees and $50 for part-time employees.

Regardless of the frequency or dollar figure provided in the bonus, an extra lump sum of funds for employees is a token of appreciation that can help front-line workers as they navigate the risks of the second wave of the pandemic. It acknowledges that the risks they face are valued by their employer as they help support members of the community through these trying times.

  1. Embrace the “New Normal”

Another option for companies is to simply accept that the pandemic is a long-term scenario but that adjustments in the workplace do not justify a pay bump. While plenty of companies are likely following suit, Loblaw has received significant media attention for the decision not to reinstate a form of “hero pay” for their front-line workers. This decision was justified on the basis that the company is simply operating under a “new normal” with safety precautions in place for employees and customers.

While there may be some perceived normalcy now that we know more about COVID-19 and how to limit the spread of the virus, Loblaw employees have noticed a significant difference in morale when cases rise in their community and they are not receiving hero pay.

How, as a society, do we express our gratitude to those who show up every day to do their job knowing that there is a looming risk of exposure to such a virus? What type of bonus would it take for any one of us to do the same?

Many companies across the nation decided to provide bonuses or increase hourly pay rates, citing their appreciation for their front-line workers who are relied on by their community during the pandemic. Maintaining high morale creates some semblance of normalcy for workers and customers alike.

New normal or not, it’s time we put our money where our mouths are and ensure front-line workers are valued as they conduct the duties we rely on daily. My gracious thanks may be appreciated as I walk out the door but they don’t make up for the customer who screamed at the greeter for asking them to wear a mask. Or the sinking feeling a cashier gets when they learn their co-worker tested positive. We can all do our part to be kind, but we can’t make up for every risk along the way. That’s what hazard pay is for.



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