While significant ink was spilled last summer evaluating whether Congress would pass the HEROES Act – House Democrats’ $3 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, the federal government was ultimately unable to implement an aid package that included, among other provisions, mandated “hazard pay” for essential workers. In response, several local and municipal governments have taken up the call and have recently implemented laws to require additional wage premiums for employees in the grocery and pharmacy industries. Unsurprisingly, these local initiatives have gained significant traction in California.
These ordinances, which have been viewed as a boon for certain essential workers, have been met with stiff opposition by employers. For example, Kroger – one of the largest grocery store operators in the country – announced the closing of two stores in Long Beach as a direct response to that city’s Hero Pay ordinance. In addition, the California Grocers Association has filed federal lawsuits against the cities of Montebello, Long Beach and Oakland, challenging the constitutionality of the local ordinances and arguing that the laws are preempted by the National Labor Relations Act. Whether these business closures and lawsuits ultimately affect the viability of these local laws remains to be seen. But, for now, covered employers must ensure that their pay practices comply with the enhanced wage requirements mandated by these California ordinances. And, as California is often a harbinger of things to come on the employment law front, employers nationwide should be on the alert for similar ordinances in jurisdictions where they do business.