Kaiser Permanente and 85,000 of its unionized employees have reached an agreement to pay workers a “hero’s bonus” in recognition of the dangers they face dealing with COVID-19 patients.

The healthcare giant has annual performance incentive plans and bonus programs in place for the vast majority of its employees — more than 190,000 — but those are based on the company’s ability to deliver quality care and increase the number of patients it serves.

This year, the more-than 190,000 employees, including 85,000 workers represented by the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, will receive a one-time reward in recognition of their work during the pandemic. 

The bonus will be paid in late March or early April. Amounts will vary across employee categories and location. An average bonus will be about 3% of an employee’s gross annual earnings, Kaiser said.

Denise Ellis, who works as a clerk at a Kaiser medical building in Brea, figures hers will be around $2,000.

“This is wonderful,” she said. “A lot of my coworkers have husbands or other family members who have been laid off. It really resonates. So many people are smiling about this.”

The unionized nurses, respiratory therapists, nursing assistants, pharmacy workers, clerks and other healthcare employees work at facilities in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, Oregon, Virginia, Washington, D.C. and Washington state.

Paid leave and child-care benefits

Kaiser also agreed to extend COVID-19 paid-leave benefits through March 31 for workers who contract the virus or are exposed and must isolate themselves. The company will continue childcare grants to help defray employee costs through April 3.

Employees who work 32 hours a week or more at a Kaiser facility will be eligible for a grant of $200 per week to pay for childcare for children age 14 or younger, as well as disabled, dependent children.

Those working at a Kaiser facility more than 20 hours a week (including per-diem employees) who test positive for COVID-19 will receive up to 80 hours of administrative leave. Workers who are sent home and are awaiting a test result or are in isolation will also be covered.

A shift in duties

Ellis said Kaiser’s “all-hands-on-deck” approach to dealing with patients during the pandemic has shifted her duties and created additional stress.

“We’re scanning patients as they come in,” the 47-year-old Pomona resident said. “I take their temperature to make sure they don’t have a fever and also give them a questionnaire that asks if they have COVID-19 or have been around anyone who has it.”

Workers wear masks and other protective gear while practicing social distancing, Ellis said, but the danger in interacting with patients who potentially have the virus is very real.

“Now patients who are coming in are actually sick, so you could still get COVID,” she said.

Arlene Peasnall, Kaiser’s senior vice president of human resources, said workers quickly pivoted to address the multitude of issues surrounding the health crisis.

“Our employees adapted and innovated, taking on new and necessary job assignments,” Peasnall said in a statement. “Their dedication and adaptability enabled us to work differently and more productively and collectively respond to this unprecedented pandemic.”

Peasnall said Kaiser realizes this has been a challenging time for employees.

“We offered assistance to ensure that frontline teams had access to alternate housing options, we provided significant childcare grants and offered up to two full weeks of additional paid leave for COVID-19 illness and exposure,” she said. “In light of this third and significant surge, we have decided to extend these programs through March 31.”


By Arlene Huff

Arlene Huff is the founding member of Golden State Online. Before that She was a general assignment reporter. A native Californian, she graduated from the University of California with a degree in medical anthropology and global health. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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