This is one of the least used forms of premium payments agencies make to their employees. We are unsure of the reason why, but speculate that it may be because both agencies and employees remain unsure of the circumstances under which this type of premium pay is required.
Federal employees are entitled to receive additional pay if they are exposed to certain types of hazards or unusual physical hardship. Hazardous duty is defined by OPM as hazards in which an accident could result in serious injury or death.
OPM is authorized by Congress to establish the types of hazards to which an employee’s exposure mandates the payment of hazardous duty pay. These range from exposure to toxic chemicals, virulent biologicals or incendiary materials to underwater duty or exposure to extreme heat.
OPM has established a list of hazards to which a federal employee’s exposure mandates the payment of hazardous duty pay. This list is called “Appendix A” to OPM’s hazardous duty pay regulations. Agencies may petition OPM to add to the list of hazards that appears on Appendix A.
Exposure to one of these hazards results in the employee being entitled to receive an additional payment of between 10-25% of his basic pay for that day. The amounts are determined by OPM.
Until 1990, exposure to the hazard had to be intermittent or occasional to qualify for hazardous duty pay. Since 1990, that has no longer been true. All that is required is that the employee be exposed to the hazard, regardless of how often this occurs.
It is a defense to payment of hazardous duty pay if the employer has taken the hazard into account in classifying the employee’s position. OPM has defined the phrase “taken into account in classifying the position.” OPM defines this phrase as meaning that an employee can use his knowledge, skill and abilities in that position to reduce the risk of the hazard. For example, fire fighters would not be entitled to receive hazardous duty pay for fighting a fire.
On the other hand, agencies can seek a waiver from OPM so that they can pay hazardous duty to employees who are exposed to a hazard, even where the hazard has been taken into account in classifying the employee’s position.