South Carolina County Withheld COVID-19 Premium Pay from Essential Workers, Class Action Says
Amick et al. v. Lexington County
Filed: January 26, 2023 ◆§ 3:23-cv-00336-CMC
Lexington County, South Carolina faces a class action filed by two essential workers who allege that it has unlawfully withheld COVID-19 premium pay from certain eligible employees.
Lexington County, South Carolina faces a proposed class action filed by two essential workers who allege that it has unlawfully withheld COVID-19 premium pay from certain eligible employees.
The 15-page lawsuit claims that after receiving over $58 million in federal funds, Lexington County has “arbitrarily” required eligible employees who performed essential work during the pandemic to be on the payroll on specific dates in order to receive “hazard pay.” In doing so, the county has allegedly refused many former employees the premium pay to which they were purportedly entitled, the suit charges.
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The Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds program (SLFRF), established by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), aimed to provide relief and resources to state and local governments in response to the pandemic, the case explains. According to the complaint, these federal funds were designed to award premium pay to eligible employees performing essential work during the COVID-19 crisis—up to $13 per hour in addition to an employee’s normal wages (not to exceed $25,000 per individual).
“Premium pay, as intended by the ARPA, is designed to address the disparity between the critical services provided by and the risks taken by essential workers and the relatively low compensation they tend to receive,” the filing reads.
Per the lawsuit, Lexington County made lump sum payments of this “hazard pay” to its employees on November 5, 2021, and May 20, 2022. Prior to each payment, the defendant issued memoranda stipulating that in order to receive premium pay, an employee must be on the county’s payroll on the dates the payments are processed—October 31, 2021, and May 13, 2022, the suit relays.
The filing contends that Lexington County “made an arbitrary and capricious decision” to only award premium pay to eligible workers still employed by the county at the time of the lump sum payments given that no such requirement is outlined by the federal government in its SLFRF program.
The plaintiffs, both Lexington County residents, are former employees of the defendant who performed essential work for the county during the COVID-19 pandemic, the case says. One plaintiff was employed as a battalion chief until his retirement on October 3, 2021, and the other was a sheriff’s deputy until April 29, 2022, when she left the position, the suit explains. Because the plaintiffs were no longer employed by the county at the time of its lump sum payments to eligible workers, neither has received any premium pay for their work performed during the pandemic, despite otherwise qualifying for it, the complaint alleges.
The lawsuit looks to represent any eligible worker employed by Lexington County who performed essential work between January 27, 2020, and March 20, 2022, who terminated that employment prior to May 13, 2022 and who did not receive premium pay for essential work performed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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