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City council to consider 2 pandemic-related bonuses for Denver employees

A vaccine bonus was first brought up two weeks ago, but hit resistance over concerns about giving money to those exempt from Denver's vaccine requirement.

DENVER — Two bonus proposals will be in front of Denver City Council in a meeting next week.

One proposal would provide $400 bonuses to vaccinated employees, and those with approved exemptions. The other would provide $250 for each month between March and December 2020 that city employees had to work primarily in person.

The vaccine bonus was first brought up two weeks ago, but hit resistance from councilwoman Robin Kniech, who was concerned about giving money to those exempt from the city's vaccine requirement.

"It's important that anyone else who was earning this bonus also was earning it by helping to prevent the spread of COVID," said Kniech.

The new proposal from the city's Department of Finance would require employees with a vaccine exemption to upload results of COVID tests every five days and wear a mask when at work around others.

"The fact that they have to prove their compliance, that they have these requirements related to COVID prevention, that they have to earn their bonus, makes this more equitable than the original proposal that we heard," said Kniech.

As of Friday, 98.7% of Denver employees (10,704) were vaccinated. There were 652 who received an exemption. There were still 14 under review.

RELATED: Thursday is Denver's COVID vaccine mandate deadline for city employees

For those with a vaccine exemption, they are required to be tested every five days and wear a mask as part of their employment, not just to receive the bonus.

"If you are out of compliance, for whatever reason, maybe you just decided you didn't want to go get that test, then that actually triggers the disciplinary process," said Smith. "Discipline, which could include, 10 days of suspension and ultimately termination, but you would also forfeit your right to that $400 payment."

Employees with the vaccine will receive their bonus after Oct. 29. Employees with an exemption will receive it after Dec. 23, as long as they follow the testing and mask rules.

"Long after this potential one-time bonus has passed, they will need to continue to remain in compliance in order to keep their job," said Smith.

The other bonus is for employees who did the majority of their work in person in any month between March and December 2020.

Law enforcement, firefighters, park rangers and city COVID testing site workers are examples of employees who would be eligible for $250 for each month, up to $2,500 total.

"They were working before the vaccines were available. They were, themselves, at risk of COVID. Some of them got COVID for showing up in person," said Kniech.

The bonus would not apply to workers who were able to work at home.

Since the money would come from federal pandemic funds, the city would have to follow the federal rules.

"If you were able to do your job remotely, then you don't qualify for hazard pay or premium pay because you were able to safely work from home," said Smith. "We believe there are around 7,400 employees who would be eligible and a total cost of that would be $16.6 million."

RELATED: CU Anschutz doctor and med student sue over COVID vaccine mandate

The city saved $16 million by having employees furlough eight days in 2020. Why not reimburse all employees for their furlough days instead of bonuses for those who worked in person?

"The (federal fund) is not meant to supplement lost revenues to the city," said Smith. "We have to be very careful we're following the guidance when we're looking at how we're using those rescue plan dollars."

Other jurisdictions have also provided premium or hazard pay.

The city of Aurora paid police and fire personnel up to $200 per pay period in hazard pay for work between March and November 2020, totaling $2.6 million.

Lakewood paid hazard pay to police, park rangers and front-line employees facing higher risk of COVID.

Lakewood paid 439 employees two months of hazard pay, totaling $212,000.

RELATED: US hits 700,000 COVID deaths just as overall cases begin to drop

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