I work as a caregiver. Unlike many employees able to switch to remote working, we caregivers traveled to our clients in their homes. They needed us to shower, cook, and clean. For some of these people, we were their only contact with the outside world. We risked our lives every time we went out. We cared for and worried about our clients’ health. Even with masking, gloves, and goggles, we stressed.
I recently learned that our state’s budget includes hazard pay for caregivers like me who worked through the pandemic. My understanding is this funding is to provide wage-increases for caregivers. This was to reward us for the dangers we faced and to grant money to family caregivers. This money also helps families who have children with cerebral palsy or another a disability—imagine not being able to provide for your family because you can’t find care for your child.
In a recent annual review, I received a positive review for my year of hard work and a raise of 25 cents an hour. That same week, my employer called an all-hands meeting on another subject, but didn’t mention the money that was won for us.
I don’t want to make waves and am leaving the profession, but worry about the caregivers who perform this needed, under-appreciated work. What are my and their rights? What is due to them?
Let’s look at this specific legislation and the issue you raised.
An internet search reveals at least one state budget includes money, in one case, $32,875,000 of federal and state funding, to support increased wages for personal care attendants. The accompanying documentation also states it’s up to employers to provide wage increases.
Your larger question is whether your employer is wrongfully withholding money you and other caregivers should receive. I don’t one hundred percent know the answer to your question, and it may be your employer hasn’t yet received the money or is in the process of allocating it. If you call or email your state representative, he or she may be able to give you more definitive information.
Meanwhile, I posed your concern to attorney Charles Krugel to learn how often this happens. Says Krugel, “It’s not unheard of for employers to pocket federal and state pandemic relief monies for themselves. This happens too often, but more often than not they’re caught. On a macro level, it’s a drain on our resources because it takes taxpayer money to disclose, investigate and prosecute that misconduct. On a micro level, it’s usually wage theft. There are a lot of employers who just don’t get it.”
If you’re not receiving money due you, you’re not alone. My inbox filled during the pandemic with emails from other employees who felt their employers had sought and kept relief money intended for employees. The federal government is investigating employers that applied for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) monies to meet payroll expenses and retain employees but use that money for other reasons (https://www.justice.gov/usao-edpa/pr/feds-charge-19-defendants-pandemic-fraud-over-24-million). According to Jackson Spencer Law, many business owners mistakenly thought they could use the money however they wanted, “for example, paying themselves” (https://jacksonspencerlaw.com/ppp-loan-fraud/).
Finally, your letter made it clear you and other caregivers put your clients’ interests first and foremost. Thank you. I’m grateful to you and the other front-line workers who wore masks and provided essential services at their own risk.
(c) 2022 Lynne Curry
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