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Frequently Asked Questions Pandemic

May an employee receive hazard pay differentials or environmental differential pay if exposed to COVID-19 through the performance of assigned duties?

General Schedule (GS) employees may receive additional pay for the performance of hazardous duty or duty involving physical hardship. (5 U.S.C. 5545(d) and 5 CFR part 550, subpart I). Appendix A to subpart I of part 550 of title 5, Code of Federal Regulations, contains a list of approved hazard pay differentials. For example, a 25 percent hazard pay differential is authorized for employee exposure to “virulent biologicals, “ which is defined as ‘work with or in close proximity to…[m]aterials of micro-organic nature which when introduced into the body are likely to cause serious disease or fatality and for which protective devices do not afford complete protection.’ 

To be eligible for the hazard pay differential, the agency must determine that the employee is exposed to a qualifying hazard through the performance of his or her assigned duties and that the hazardous duty has not been taken into account in the classification of the employee’s position. A hazard pay differential is not payable if safety precautions have reduced the element of hazard to a less than significant level of risk, consistent with generally accepted standards that may be applicable. (See 5 CFR 550.904-550.906 for further information and exceptions.) OPM does not determine when hazard pay differentials must be paid; agencies have the responsibility and are in the best position to determine whether duties performed by employees meet the regulatory requirements for hazard pay. Thus, agency managers, in consultation with occupational safety and health experts, must determine whether an employee is entitled to hazard pay on a case-by-case basis.

Prevailing rate (wage) employees may receive an environmental differential when exposed to a working condition, physical hardship, or hazard of an unusually severe nature. (See 5 U.S.C. 5343(c)(4) and 5 CFR 532.511.) A list of approved differentials is contained in Appendix A to subpart E of part 532, of title 5, Code of Federal Regulations. As with hazard pay differentials, determinations as to whether an employee qualifies for an approved environmental differential must be made by agencies on a case-by-case basis. 

Last Updated:  3/7/2020

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