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Nonessential Workers vs. Essential Workers:

A nonessential worker's duties do not impact the critical infrastructure of a city, state, or country. Essential workers are employed in roles that are vital during a natural disaster or emergency, such as healthcare workers, emergency services, and public workers. Often, an essential worker is required to work long hours to ensure operational needs are met.

The Role of Nonessential Workers during COVID-19:

During the COVID-19 pandemic, nonessential workers in various states across the U.S. were ordered to stay at home to help control the spread of the virus. Depending on the business's operational functions, nonessential workers are either asked to work from home or accept paid or unpaid leave. In many cases, nonessential workers were laid off because businesses were not making enough sales or because they were required to shut down.

Nonessential workers are classified by the state a business operates in and the role of the workers. A worker can perform duties in an essential business, but they may not be required to work during a business closing or state of emergency. For example, technicians or engineers of an energy company are needed to maintain the system, whereas an administrator at the energy company may not be required to work as their role does not affect the overall infrastructure.

Generally, essential workers are given an essential worker letter when they start a job at a business or organization. This letter will inform them that during an emergency, they are expected to fulfill their duties. When an organization or business announces "essential workers only," this is an indication to nonessential workers that their services are not needed at that time.

Each state is responsible for classifying essential and nonessential workers. However, many states have adopted the categories of essential workers, also referred to as critical infrastructure workers, outlined by the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). CISA identified 16 infrastructure sectors that are considered critical to the economy, national security, and public health and safety.

The 16 categories of essential workers include:

  1. Chemical management.
  2. Commercial facilities that support essential functions.
  3. Communications infrastructure.
  4. Critical manufacturing.
  5. Dams Sector.
  6. Defense industrial base.
  7. Emergency services.
  8. Energy.
  9. Financial services.
  10. Food and agriculture.
  11. Government facilities.
  12. Healthcare and public health.
  13. Information technology.
  14. Nuclear reactors, materials, and waste.
  15. Transportation systems.
  16. Water and wastewater systems.

If your job does not fall under any one of the 16 infrastructure sectors listed by CISA, you should consider your role as nonessential. We recommend contacting your state's government office to verify whether your job or role in the business is deemed necessary during a statewide or national emergency.

Examples of Nonessential Workers:

  • Hairdressers.
  • Waitstaff.
  • Museum workers.
  • Florists.
  • Landscapers and gardeners.
  • Caterers.
  • Personal trainers.
  • Bar staff.
  • Certain cleaning services.
  • Administrators (depends on the type of business).
  • Manufacturers (depends on the type of business).
  • Retail clerks in businesses like cosmetics, clothing, or electronic stores.
  • Workers in the entertainment industry, including workers at movie theatres, theme parks, and concert halls.

Nonessential Workers by State:

State

Nonessential Business Restrictions

Alabama

On 28 March 2020, Gov. Kay Ivey instituted a "Safer at Home" order that permitted nonessential businesses to open subject to sanitation and social distancing guidelines. On 7 April 2021, a new "Safer Apart" order was issued. The state of public health emergency declared due to COVID-19 in Alabama ended on 31 October 2021.

Alaska

On 24 April 2020, Gov. Mike Dunleavy allowed personal services businesses and restaurants to reopen under strict social distancing guidelines. This order has since expired. The last Declaration of Public Health Disaster Emergency issues in response to COVID-19 expired on 15 December 2020.

Arizona

On 11 March 2020, Gov. Douglas A. Ducey declared a public health emergency. On 31 March 2020, a stay-at-home order took effect. On 16 May 2020, a "Stay Healthy, Return Smarter, Return Stronger" policy was instituted that initiated the process of safely reopening the state. In March 2021, businesses were allowed to resume normal operations.

Arkansas

On 11 March 2020, Gov. Asa Hutchinson declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19. In March and April 2020, several orders and directives were issued to limit the spread of the virus. In May and June 2020, nonessential businesses were permitted to resume operations.

California

On 4 May 2020, a state of emergency was declared and on 19 March 2020, an indefinite stay-at-home order was implemented. The majority of executive orders and actions implemented in response to COVID-19 were terminated on 15 June 2021, and a public health order with limited restrictions was issued.

Colorado

On 26 March 2020, a stay-at-home order was issued, and on 27 April 2020, Gov. Jared Polis issued a "safer at home" order, which expired toward the end of November 2020. This order permitted the gradual reopening of nonessential businesses. A public health order with limited COVID-19 restrictions is currently still in place.

Connecticut

On 23 March 2020, Connecticut issued a "stay safe, stay at home" policy that included any nonessential business or entity providing nonessential services. Over the following months, nonessential businesses were gradually permitted to resume operations. Most executive orders issued in relation to COVID-19 expired on 20 July 2021.

Delaware

On 20 March 2020, Gov. John Carney signed a statewide stay-at-home order. From 8 May 2020, nonessential businesses were permitted to resume limited operations. The state started reopening in a phased approach from 1 June 2020 and fully reopened by mid-2021.

District of Columbia

On March 25, 2020, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a stay-at-home order that called for all nonessential businesses to close. The stay-at-home order was lifted on 29 May 2020, and the District of Columbia entered its first phase of reopening. Restrictions were gradually eased, and the district reopened fully in June 2021.

Florida

Gov. Ron DeSantis eased the Florida statewide stay-at-home order on 4 May 2020, allowing nonessential businesses to operate with 25% capacity. On 5 June 2020, restrictions on nonessential businesses were relaxed further, and on 3 May 2021, all COVID-19 restrictions on individuals and businesses in Florida were lifted.

Georgia

On 24 April 2020, Gov. Brian Kemp eased restrictions that were implemented in March 2020 in response to COVID-19, allowing most nonessential businesses to reopen. On 30 April 2021, most COVID-19-related rules that were imposed on businesses in Georgia were lifted.

Hawaii

On 25 March 2020, a stay-at-home order took effect in Hawaii. On 5 May 2020, Gov. David Ige announced a "safer at home" order, and from 7 May 2020, nonessential businesses were gradually reopened. On 1 December 2021, the order that outlined statewide restrictions for restaurants, bars, social gatherings, gyms, and social establishments ended.

Idaho

On 25 March 2020, Gov. Brad Little issued a statewide stay-at-home order. On 2 May 2020, Idaho entered the first stage of the state's recovery plan, allowing certain nonessential businesses to reopen. On 15 April 2022, the state of public health emergency in Idaho ended.

Illinois

On 1 May 2020, Gov. J.B. Pritzker instituted a modified stay-at-home order that permitted some nonessential businesses to reopen. On 5 May 2020, the governor also announced a five-stage reopening plan. On 11 June 2021, Illinois entered phase five of its reopening, fully reopening all industries and activities.

Indiana

On 6 March 2020, Gov. Eric Holcomb declared a state of public health emergency. On 23 March 2020, a stay-at-home order was issued, which also required nonessential businesses to close unless operations could be continued remotely. On 1 May 2020, a five-stage reopening plan was announced. The state fully reopened in September 2020.

Iowa

While the state did not institute a statewide stay-at-home order, Gov. Kimberley K. Reynolds declared a state of public health disaster and temporarily closed some nonessential businesses to on-premise patrons. Toward the end of May 2020, nonessential businesses were gradually permitted to reopen.

Kansas

On 12 March 2020, Gov. Laura Kelly declared a state of disaster in Kansas. On 30 March 2020, a statewide stay-at-home order took effect, which restricted nonessential businesses to allow only remote work. On 4 May 2020, some businesses were permitted to reopen with public health measures in place. On 29 May 2021, Kansas was fully reopened.

Kentucky

On 6 March 2020, Gov. Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency in Kentucky. On 17 March 2020 the State Capitol was closed to nonessential workers and from 24 March 2020, all nonessential businesses were ordered to close to in-person traffic. On 17 April 2020, the state started its phased reopening. Kentucky fully reopened on 11 June 2021.

Louisiana

On 11 March 2020, Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a statewide public health emergency. On 22 March 2020, a statewide stay-at-home order was issued, requiring most nonessential businesses to close temporarily. On 14 May 2020, a three-phase reopening plan was announced. Nonessential businesses were gradually permitted to resume operations.

Maine

On 2 March 2020, Gov. Janet Mills declared a state of emergency in Maine. On 25 March, all nonessential businesses had to cease public-facing operations, and on 2 April 2020, further restrictions were issued. On 1 May 2020, nonessential businesses were gradually allowed to reopen, subject to restrictions, most of which were lifted by May 2021.

Maryland

On 5 March 2020, a state of emergency was proclaimed, and on 23 March 2020, a stay-at-home order that required nonessential businesses to close to the public was issued. The order was lifted in May 2020 and replaced with a less restrictive one that permitted businesses to reopen. On 15 May 2021, all restrictions on businesses were lifted.

Massachusetts

On March 10, 2020, Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency in Massachusetts. On 24 March 2020, a stay-at-home order was issued, and all nonessential businesses had to close their physical workplaces. On 18 May 2020, the state entered the first phase of its four-phase reopening plan. All industry restrictions were lifted by 29 May 2021.

Michigan

On March 24, 2020, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered Michigan residents to stay at home to the maximum extent feasible. Restrictions were gradually eased over the following months, and on 22 June 2021, the state fully reopened. There are currently no effective COVID-19 executive orders from the Governor in the state.

Minnesota

On March 27, 2020, Gov. Tim Walz announced that Minnesota residents would be placed on a statewide lockdown until 18 May 2020, after which most nonessential businesses were allowed to reopen subject to capacity restrictions. The state followed a phased approach to reopening its economy over the next months. The state fully reopened by July 2021.

Mississippi

Gov. Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency in Mississippi on 14 March 2020 and announced a statewide shelter-in-place order on 1 April 2020, requiring nonessential businesses to close. From 24 April 2020, nonessential businesses were gradually allowed to reopen, subject to restrictions. Most restrictions were lifted by March 2021.

Missouri

On 3 April 2020, Gov. Mike Parson announced a statewide stay-at-home order, and on 27 April 2020, a "Show Me Strong Recovery" plan was announced, which allowed some nonessential workers to return to work. On 4 May 2020, the state entered the first phase of its reopening plan and fully reopened on 16 June 2020.

Montana

Gov. Steve Bullock declared a state of emergency on 12 March 2020 and issued a stay-at-home order effective from 28 March 2020. The stay-at-home order was lifted in April 2020 and nonessential businesses were gradually allowed to reopen subject to certain restrictions. Many restrictions were lifted by February 2021.

Nebraska

On 13 March 2020, Gov. Pete Ricketts issued an emergency declaration, and on 9 April 2020, a stay-at-home order was issued and some nonessential businesses had to close. Toward the end of April 2020, health measures were slowly relaxed, and businesses gradually reopened. By July 2021, most of the state's COVID-19-related orders were rescinded.

Nevada

On 13 March 2020, Gov. Steve Sisolak declared a state of emergency. From 20 March 2020, all nonessential businesses in the state had to close their doors until mid-May 2020. Restrictions were gradually lifted over the following months, and the state fully reopened in mid-2021.

New Hampshire

On March 27, 2020, Gov. Chris Sununu issued a stay-at-home order. Some nonessential businesses were allowed to gradually open between May 11 and May 18, 2020, and on 15 June 2020, the stay-at-home order expired. All restrictions were lifted by May 2021.

New Jersey

On 9 March 2020, Gov. Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency. From 16 March 2020 many nonessential businesses were ordered to close, and from 21 March 2020, all nonessential businesses had to close. From May 2020, restrictions were gradually relaxed, and nonessential businesses started reopening. Most restrictions were lifted by early 2021.

New Mexico

On 24 March 2020, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham instituted a statewide stay-at-home instruction that required nonessential businesses to close. From 1 May 2020, nonessential retailers could operate via curbside pickup and delivery, and from mid-May, most were allowed to reopen subject to restrictions, most of which have since been lifted.

New York

On 22 March 2020, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered all workers in nonessential businesses to stay at home. In May 2020, several counties permitted some nonessential businesses to reopen, and over the following months, the entire state gradually reopened and restrictions were eased. By July 2021, every region had entered the final reopening phase.

North Carolina

Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency on 10 March 2020 and announced a statewide stay-at-home order that took effect on 30 March 2020 and only allowed essential businesses to operate. On 8 May 2020, the state started its phased reopening. In September 2020, the state entered the final phase of its reopening plan.

North Dakota

On 13 March 2020, Gov. Doug Burgum declared a state of emergency. From 20 March 2020, all recreational facilities were closed and nonessential staff in state agencies had to work remotely. On 27 March 2020, more nonessential businesses had to close. From 1 May 2020, businesses started reopening, and most restrictions were lifted by the end of 2020.

Ohio

On 9 March 2020, Gov. Mike DeWine declared a state of emergency, and from 23 March 2020, a stay-at-home order took effect that required all nonessential businesses to close. From 1 May 2020, nonessential businesses were gradually allowed to reopen. The state fully reopened in June 2021.

Oklahoma

On 15 March 2020, Gov. Kevin Stitt declared a state emergency, and on 24 March 2020, an order advising Oklahoma residents to stay home and avoid groups of 10 or more people was announced. Some nonessential businesses were allowed to reopen in May 2020, and by early 2021, most restrictions were lifted.

Oregon

On 8 March 2020, Gov. Kate Brown signed a declaration of emergency, and on March 23, 2020, nonessential workers were ordered to stay home. In early May 2020, a phased reopening was announced and nonessential businesses were gradually permitted to reopen subject to restrictions. By the end of June 2021, most of the restrictions were lifted.

Pennsylvania

On 6 March 2020, Gov. Tom Wolf declared a state of emergency, and on 19 March 2020, all nonessential businesses were ordered to close. The state started easing restrictions and gradually reopening from 8 May 2020. From May 2021, all businesses were allowed to return to 100% capacity.

Rhode Island

On 9 March 2020, Gov. Gina Raimondo declared a state of disaster emergency, and on 28 March 2020, nonessential businesses were ordered to close. The stay-at-home order was lifted on 9 May 2020, and the state started its phased reopening. Gradually, more businesses resumed operations, and restrictions were eased, until most were lifted in May 2021.

South Carolina

On 13 March 2020, Gov. Henry McMaster declared a state of emergency, and on 31 March 2020, all nonessential businesses were ordered to close to the public. On 4 May 2020, the stay-at-home order was lifted and some nonessential businesses could reopen. Restrictions were gradually eased over the next months and most were lifted by Match 2021.

South Dakota

On 13 March 2020, Gov. Kristi Noem declared a state of emergency in South Dakota and ordered nonessential personnel of the offices of state government to work remotely, effective from 15 March 2020. However, the state did not implement a statewide stay-at-home order, nor were businesses ordered to close.

Tennessee

On 12 March 2020, Gov. Bill Lee declared a state of emergency, and on 22 March 2022, restaurants and gyms had to close to on-site patrons. On 30 March 2020, a statewide "Safer at Home" order was issued. Toward the end of April 2020, most counties allowed businesses to start reopening. In May 2021, all restrictions were lifted.

Texas

On 13 March 2020, Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster, and from 2 April 2020, all Texans were ordered to stay at home. From 24 April 2020, nonessential businesses could provide delivery and pickup services, and from 1 May 2020, many reopened to on-site patrons, subject to restrictions. By March 2021, all businesses could reopen fully.

Utah

Utah did not issue a statewide stay-at-home order, but Utans were directed to practice social and physical distancing and to stay at home as much as possible. Businesses were also directed to require employees to remotely where possible. Most restrictions on businesses in the state were lifted by May 2021.

Vermont

On 13 March 2020, Gov. Phil Scott declared a state of emergency, and on 25 March 2020, a "Stay Home, Stay Safe" order was issued, directing all nonessential businesses to close. On 17 April 2020, a phased reopening plan was announced, and from 4 May 2020, restrictions were gradually eased. By mid-June 2021, all restrictions were lifted.

Virginia

On 12 March 2020, Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency, and on 24 March 2020, all Virginia schools and nonessential businesses were ordered to close. On 8 May 2020, a phased reopening plan was announced, which commenced on 15 May 2020. By the end of May 2021, all restrictions were lifted.

Washington

On 29 February 2020, Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency, and from 24 March 2020, a "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order took effect. On 4 May 2020, the state initiated a phased reopening, gradually allowing nonessential businesses to resume operations. The majority of restrictions were lifted by June 2021, when the state officially reopened.

West Virginia

On 4 March 2020, Gov. Jim Justice announced a state of preparedness, and on 24 March 2020, a statewide stay-at-home order was issued. From 30 April 2020, nonessential businesses were gradually permitted to reopen and operate under strict safety measures. From March 2021, all nonessential businesses were allowed to operate at full capacity.

Wisconsin

On 12 March 2020, Gov. Tony Evers declared a public health emergency, and on 25 March 2020, a "Safer at Home" order was issued, which also required all nonessential businesses to close. On 11 May 2020, most nonessential businesses were allowed to reopen, subject to restrictions. By early 2021, most restrictions were eased or lifted.

Wyoming

On 13 March 2020, Gov. Mark Gordon declared a state of emergency. Later in the same month, all public places, including theaters, bars, salons, and restaurants, were ordered to close temporarily. On 28 April 2020, the easing of some restrictions was announced. Restrictions were gradually relaxed until they were fully removed in March 2021.

The table above was last updated 05/16/2020.

FAQs:

What is a nonessential worker?

A nonessential worker is an employee who is not required to work during an authorized business shutdown. The work conducted by a nonessential worker is not considered crucial during a statewide emergency.

What are nonessential services?

Nonessential services are classified by the state the business operates in and the type of business. Nonessential services are not deemed necessary during a statewide emergency. Examples of nonessential work include services provided by salons, movie theaters, gyms, and certain retail stores.

Who are considered nonessential workers in a state of emergency in New York?

During a state of emergency in New York, certain workers are considered nonessential if their job does not directly impact the health and safety of all New Yorkers. Examples of nonessential workers in New York include hairdressers, clothing and electronic retail store clerks, personal trainers, and workers who perform private services in residential homes, such as cleaning and cooking.

Are nonessential workers entitled to paid leave during a statewide lockdown?

This will depend on the business that the nonessential workers work for, the state of their employment during the lockdown, and whether they're able to work from home.

Do nonessential workers qualify for unemployment benefits during a statewide lockdown?

This depends on the situation. A nonessential worker who is laid off, or partially laid off, due to COVID-19 may be entitled to unemployment benefits. The best way to find out is to check with your state.

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