An essential employee is a designated employee that is required to work during a business closure in order to meet operational requirements. Essential employees designation is determined by the state, along with the responsibilities of the employee, and the reasons for closing.
All of our information has been updated to cover the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, and current definitions of "essential employee." See also our article on nonessential employees and essential businesses.
Essential Employee Letter Template:
Make use of our general essential employee letter in Microsoft Word format to create a customized letter for your employees.
The Importance of Essential Critical Infrastructure Employees
The functioning of special infrastructure is vital for public health, safety, and community well-being. During the COVID-19 pandemic, certain industries are responsible for the continued operation of services, such as healthcare, emergency services, public works, and manufacturing, among others. This infrastructure requires essential employees, such as grocery clerks, doctors and veterinarians, police officers, and firefighters, to name a few.
Essential Employment Categories:
There are 14 essential employment categories listed by the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). Employees that fall under these categories are referred to as "Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers" and are generally required to deliver services around the clock.
It's important to note that while our list covers the basic essential employees, they may differ in each state. Since each state can individually determine what classifies as essential, employers need to check with their state's government offices before closing down their businesses.
1. Healthcare employees.
The healthcare industry, both public and private, provides essential services that cannot shut down in any circumstance. These essential employees are too valuable in the case of an emergency. For instance, during the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare employees perform vital services, such as research and testing, patient care, administration of medication to patients, and much more.
Examples of Essential Healthcare Employees:
- Employees conducting critical research about COVID-19.
- Funeral homes, crematoriums, and cemetery workers.
- Employees who support food, shelter, and social services.
- Employees who perform community-based public health functions, including the analysis and communicating of health information (only if employees are unable to work from home).
- Employees conducting cybersecurity functions at healthcare and public health facilities (only if employees are unable to work from home).
- Blood and plasma donors and the employees of the organizations that oversee related activities.
- Manufacturers, technicians, logistics and warehouse operators, and distributors of medical equipment and supplies.
- Caregivers (including doctors, dentists, psychologists, nurses and assistants, infection control and quality assurance employees, pharmacists, physical and occupational therapists, social workers, and speech pathologists).
- Employees that administer health plans, billing, and health information (only if employees are unable to work from home).
- Hospital and laboratory employees (including accounting, administrative, admittance and discharge, blood donation, food service, housekeeping, medical records, etc.).
2. First responders.
Also referred to as emergency management employees, the services they provide are equally as important as healthcare services. During COVID-19, emergency management employees ensure ordinary individuals have access to emergency assistance by law enforcement, the fire department, paramedics, and more. In all U.S. states, first responders are required to work during a state of emergency.
Examples of Essential Emergency Management Employees:
- Police officers.
- Emergency medical technicians.
- Fusion center employees.
- Hazardous material responders (public and private).
- All digital systems infrastructure employees that help support law enforcement and emergency service operations.
- 911 call center employees (including telecommunicators, dispatchers, and managerial employees).
3. Food and agriculture employees.
During a state of emergency, it's important for individuals, emergency services, and households to have access to food. This means that businesses like grocery stores and restaurants are required to continue operations.
Examples of Essential Food & Agriculture Employees/Businesses:
- Employees supporting groceries, pharmacies, convenience stores, and other retail stores that sell food (including pet food), and beverages.
- Restaurants that offer carry-out and quick-serve options.
- Company cafeterias.
- Animal agriculture workers.
- Farmers (including employees in animal food, feed, and ingredient production, and packaging). distribution; manufacturing, packaging
- Food processing workers (including packers, meat processing, cheese plants, milk plants, produce, slaughter facilities, etc.)
- Warehouse workers.
- Farmers' markets and farm stands.
- Business cafeterias used to feed employees.
- Employees supporting the seafood and fishing industry.
- Employees and businesses supporting food, feed, and beverage distribution (including warehouse workers, vendor-managed inventory controllers, and blockchain managers).
- Employees supporting the sanitation of all food manufacturing processes.
- Foodservice employees in residential schools with students who are unable to leave campus.
- Employees in food testing labs in both private industries and in institutions of higher education.
Due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak, many U.S. states have called for the closing or limitation of restaurants and bars. Because each state is different and the COVID-19 situation continues to develop, it's wise to contact your state's official government offices before opening your restaurant business.
4. Energy employees.
All employees that support the electrical, petroleum, and natural gas and propane manufacturing and distribution industry are considered essential. Their work ensures individuals have power at home and enough gas to travel in cases of an emergency.
The Energy category comes in three variations: electricity industry, petroleum employees, and natural and propane gas employees.
Essential Energy Employees:
All employees responsible for or involved in the maintenance, restoration, development, transportation, fuel procurement, safety, expansion, and distribution of electric power. Including call center personnel, utility employees, and maintenance technicians.
All employees that work in petroleum product storage, pipeline, transport, terminals, crude oil storage facilities, and petroleum refinery facilities.
Natural and Propane Gas Employees
All natural and propane gas employees that work in gas transmission and the distribution of pipelines, underground storage of natural gas, processing plants, and natural gas security operation centers.
5. Water and sanitation.
This category includes all employees needed to manage and maintain drinking water and drainage infrastructure.
Examples of Essential Water & Sanitation Employees:
- All operational employees at water authorities, community water systems, wastewater collection facilities, and wastewater treatment facilities.
- Employees responsible for repairing and sampling water and sanitation conveyances.
- Operational employees for water distribution and testing.
- All operational staff and technical support for SCADA control systems.
- All employees that maintain digital systems infrastructure.
6. Transportation and logistics.
All employees supporting transportation functions, such as dispatchers and maintenance and repair technicians, are considered as essential.
Examples of Essential Transportation & Logistics Employees:
- Mass transit employees.
- Trash collectors.
- Manufacturers and distributors of packaging materials, pallets, crates, containers, and other supplies needed to support manufacturing, packaging, and distribution functions.
- Postal and shipping employees, including private businesses.
- Air traffic controllers and transportation employees.
- Employees performing transportation functions, including truck and bus drivers, dispatchers, maintenance and repair technicians, and those that maintain and inspect infrastructure.
- Warehouse employees at transportation businesses.
- Truck drivers who haul hazardous and waste materials.
7. Public workers.
To ensure public facilities are maintained, public workers are considered to be essential. These employees include those who operate, evaluate, and maintain dams, locks, levees, and bridges.
Examples of Essential Public Employees:
- All employees who support the operation, inspection, and maintenance of essential public works facilities and operations, (including roads and bridges, traffic signal maintenance, emergency location services, maintenance of digital systems infrastructure).
- Plumbers, electricians, exterminators, and any other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences and needed facilities.
- Employees who keep roads in good repair and free of debris.
- Employees who oversee the removal, storage, and disposal of residential and commercial solid and hazardous waste.
Manufacturing affects multiple industries and essential categories, including transportation and healthcare. Manufacturing refers to all employees responsible for producing materials and products required for medical supply chains and transportation, such as water and sanitation, energy, communications, food and agriculture, etc.).
It's important to note that not all manufacturing employees are considered essential. For example, businesses that produce cosmetics are not essential. Your manufacturing business has to be labeled "critical" by the state.
9. Communications and information technology.
While many states go on lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, it's the communications and information technology industry that is responsible for ensuring the public is kept informed about the latest developments.
Essential Communications & IT Employees:
All employees responsible for or involved in the installation, distribution, and maintenance of communication infrastructures, including technicians, operators, call-centers, wire-line and wireless providers, cable service providers, and those who support radio, television, and other media services.
Employees who operate and support command centers, data center operators, system administrators, HVAC & electrical, software, and hardware engineers, security personnel, IT managers, and database administrators.
10. Community-based government operations and essential functions.
This category refers to critical government workers, as defined by the employer. These can include elections personnel, building employees, security employees, trade officials, weather forecasters, customs workers, and educators. This category will heavily depend on the state your business is situated in.
11. Financial services.
Financial services mainly refer to banking and lending institutions. While the institution may prohibit person to person contact by encouraging online banking, these employees are still considered essential. These include all employees needed to administer and maintain systems for processing financial transactions and services.
12. Hazardous material management.
Hazardous material management employees work at nuclear facilities, managing medical waste and waste from pharmaceuticals, laboratories processing test kits, and medical material production.
These employees also include those responsible for the cleanup of waste and the maintenance of digital systems infrastructure supporting hazardous materials management operations.
13. Defense industrial base.
All employees that support, manage, and maintain the essential services required to meet national security commitments to the federal government and the U.S. military. If you are a contractor or subcontractor that delivers important services to the Department of Defense, you still fall under the essential employee's category.
Examples of Defense Industrial Base Employees:
- Aerospace; mechanical, and software engineers.
- Manufacturing employees.
- IT and intelligence support.
- Security personnel.
- Aircraft and weapon systems mechanics and maintainers.
14. Chemical management employees.
This refers to all employees that support chemical and industrial gas supply chains, such as employees at chemical manufacturing plants, laboratories, distribution facilities, and employees who transport basic raw chemical materials to the producers of industrial and consumer goods. For example, these employees are responsible for producing hand sanitizers, food and food additives, pharmaceuticals, paper products, and more.
Essential Employees by State:
Stay at Home
Alabama currently recognizes only healthcare providers, public workers, and emergency services as essential employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this could change if a stay at home order is issued.
On 28 March, Gov. Kay Ivey issued a "safer at home" order that allows some nonessential businesses to open but they are subject to sanitation and social distancing guidelines.
Alaska recognizes the 14 categories listed above as Essential Employees, with a special emphasis on construction workers and hardware supply stores.
On 24 April, Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced that personal service businesses and restaurants will reopen under strict social distancing guidelines.
Essential employees in Arizona are similar to the 14 categories listed above, with the addition of employees at hotels and motels, laundry businesses, and hardware and supply stores.
On 4 May, Gov. Doug Ducey announced that retail stores will open on 8 May and restaurants will reopen on 11 May. The statewide stay at home order will remain in effect until 15 May.
Arkansas supports the 14 Essential Employees categories listed above.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced that most nonessential businesses will reopen in stages between 30 April and 11 May.
Essential employees in California are the 14 categories mentioned above. These include emergency services, energy employees, and medical workers.
On March 19, a stay at home order was issued by the California government. On 4 May, the state announced some retail businesses will be allowed to reopen with pickup and physical distancing.
Colorado recognizes employees that work in healthcare, critical manufacturing, financial services, public work, defense, communication, and retail stores (including liquor and firearm stores) as essential.
On 27 April, Gov. Jared Polis issued a "safer at home" order that will end on the 27 May. This order permits the reopening of some nonessential businesses.
The Connecticut government recognizes the 14 categories listed above as Essential Employees. The state places a special emphasis on health care, food service, law enforcement and similar critical services.
On the March 23, Connecticut issued a "stay safe, stay at home" policy that excludes any essential business or entity providing essential services.
Essential Employees in Delaware are part of the 14 categories, with the addition of employees in natural resources and mining, construction, trade and transportation, and leisure and hospitality.
On March 24, Gov. John Carney issued a statewide stay-at-home order that will remain in effect until May 15. The order calls for all nonessential businesses to shut down.
The District of Columbia lists most of the 14 categories as essential services, with the addition of employees that work in transportation and shelter operations.
On March 25, Mayor Muriel Bowser issued an Executive Order ordering all non-essential business to close. These include gyms, tour guides, nightclubs, and more. The order ends May 15.
Essential Employees in Florida fall in the 14 categories, with a special focus on transportation.
On 4 May, Gov. Ron DeSantis eased the Florida statewide stay at home order. Nonessential businesses like restaurants and retailers are allowed to operate with 25% capacity.
Georgia recognizes employees that fall under the 14 categories as essential. The official list of essential employees also puts a special focus on employees working in service industries like laundry, childcare facilities, and transportation.
On April 24, Gov. Brian Kemp eased restrictions, allowing most nonessential businesses to reopen.
Hawaii essential employees work in healthcare, infrastructure, manufacturing, retail, public services, financial services, defense, and construction.
On May 5, Gov. David Ige announced a "safer at home" order that makes provision for some nonessential businesses to reopen on May 7.
Idaho essential employees work in the 14 categories listed above.
On May 2, Gov. Brad Little announced that Idaho will enter the first stage of the state's recovery plan. The first stage only allows certain nonessential businesses to reopen.
Essential employees in Illinois fall under most of the 14 categories, except for defense, energy, and chemical.
On May 1, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a modified stay-at-home order that allows some nonessential businesses to reopen.
Indiana businesses and employees that are labeled as essential include child protective services, mail services, healthcare, and emergency services, and gas stations.
Gov. Eric Holcomb issued a five stage statewide reopening plan that allow some nonessential businesses in the manufacturing, retail, industrial, commercial, and infrastructure industries to operate.
Essential employees in Iowa include those that work in healthcare, law enforcement, first responders, long-term care and residential support facility personnel, and public workers.
There is no statewide stay at home order in place.
Kansas recognizes employees as essential if they work in hospitals, childcare facilities, government operations, food and beverage, liquor stores and cannabis production, and lawn care.
On May 4, the statewide stay-at-home order expired and the state entered a stage one of its reopening plan. Some nonessential businesses are allowed to reopen under strict guidelines.
Kentucky's essential employees mostly fall under the 14 categories, with a special focus on manufacturing and supply chain.
On May 4, Kentucky began its phased reopening that will last until May 20. During this time, most nonessential businesses will be allowed to operate.
Louisiana's essential employees fall under all 14 categories recognized by CISA.
On March 23, Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a stay-at-home order that will last until the April 15. The order has been modified to allow the reopening of some nonessential businesses.
Maine essential employees and services are similar to the 14 categories listed above. However, there is a special focus on construction workers and those involved in home repair.
On March 31, Gov. Janet Mills announced a statewide stay at home order that will last until the end of May.
Maryland recognizes all employees that fall under the 14 categories as essential.
On the March 23, Maryland placed a stay at home order in place that prohibits the operation of nonessential businesses.
The Massachusetts government recognizes the 14 categories as essential services. However, officials are yet to release a complete list.
On the March 24, Gov. Charlie Baker issued an emergency order requiring all businesses that do not provide essential services to close their physical workplaces. This will last until May 18.
The State of Michigan recognizes employees that fall under the 14 categories as essential.
On the March 24, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called for Michigan residents to stay at home until May 15 but also modified restrictions so some nonessential businesses can reopen.
Minnesota's essential employees fall under all 14 categories listed by CISA.
Between the March 27 and May 18, Minnesota residents will be placed on a statewide lockdown. This stay at home order has been modified to allow some retail businesses to reopen.
Mississippi recognizes all 14 categories as essential services and employees, with a special focus on construction and related services.
On 01 April, Gov. Tate Reeves announced a statewide shelter-in-place order that will last until May 11. Nonessential businesses are prohibited from operating.
The different essential employees required might depend on the county. However, Missouri does recognize most of the 14 categories as essential, especially law enforcement and emergency services, and healthcare employees.
On April 27, Gov. Mike Parson officially announced a "Show Me Strong Recovery" plan that permits some nonessential employees to return to work.
Essential employees in Montana include those that work in healthcare, human services, supply chain, critical infrastructure, and government-related functions.
Gov. Steve Bullock released a phased reopening plan that will take effect between April 27 and May 4. Some nonessential businesses will be allowed to operate under social distancing guidelines.
Nebraska currently recognizes healthcare services, public workers, and emergency services as essential employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nebraska has not announced a statewide stay at home order. Nonessential businesses are permitted to continue operations.
Nevada essential employees fall under most of the 14 categories recognized by CISA, with the addition of home maintenance and repair, public and air transportation, and childcare facilities.
On March 17, Gov. Steve Sisolak requested that all nonessential businesses in the state close their doors until mid-May.
New Hampshire essential employees fall under all 14 categories recognized by CISA, with the addition of steam workers.
On March 27, Gov. Chris Sununu issued a stay-at-home order that will last until the end of May. However, some nonessential businesses can operate as of May 11.
Essential employees in New Jersey include those that work in pharmacies and medical marijuana dispensaries, grocery stores, gas stations, pet stores, laundromats, as well as mail and delivery stores.
On March 21, Gov. Phil Murphy announced a stay at home order that prohibits the opening of nonessential businesses.
New Mexico recognizes essential employees as those that support the public health, safety, and well-being of the State.
On the March 24, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham instituted a "statewide stay-at-home instruction" that will not allow the opening of nonessential businesses until May 15.
New York essential employees fall under the 14 categories, with an emphasis on those that work in grocery stores, food delivery service, and public transportation.
On March 22, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered all workers in nonessential businesses to close down.
North Carolina does not have an official list of essential employees but the State does recognize the 14 categories listed by CISA.
On May 5, Gov. Roy Cooper announced that some nonessential businesses will reopen on May 8.
North Dakota does not have specific guidelines in place that outline essential services and employees.
There is no statewide stay at home order in place.
The State of Ohio recognizes the 14 categories released by CISA as essential services.
Gov. Mike DeWine instituted a state reopening plan that permits nonessential businesses in the manufacturing, distribution, and construction industries to return to work on 4 May. However, the statewide stay at home order will remain in place until end of May.
Oklahoma's essential employees all fall under the 14 categories recognized by CISA.
On March 24, Gov. Kevin Stitt issued an executive order advising Oklahoma residents to stay home but some nonessential businesses can begin reopening during the month of May.
Oregon's essential services include those mentioned in all 14 categories, with the addition of employees that work in childcare facilities and construction.
On March 23, Gov. Kate Brown issued an executive order telling Oregon residents to stay home except for essential needs.
Pennsylvania essential employees work in healthcare, infrastructure, manufacturing, retail, public services, financial services, defense, and construction.
Gov. Tom Wolf instituted a state reopening plan that will permit some nonessential businesses to operate from May 8.
Rhode Island does not have specific guidelines in place that outlines each essential service and employees. However, the State does recognize the need for healthcare workers and first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On March 28, Gov. Gina Raimondo did announced the closing of nonessential businesses until May 8. Thereafter, the state will enter a reopening phase.
South Carolina does not have an official list of essential employees released.
On 4 May, the statewide order expires. Businesses are still required to follow social distancing guidelines.
South Dakota does not have a specific outline of essential services and employees.
South Dakota has no statewide stay at home order in place.
Essential employees in Tennessee include those that work with food and beverage, patient care, emergency services, and public works.
On March 30, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a stay at home order that will require all nonessential employees to remain indoors until end of May. However, some nonessential businesses will be allowed to start reopening.
Texas counties differ when it comes to essential services and employees. Overall, the State recognizes the urgent need for healthcare professionals, first responders, public workers, farmers, and emergency services.
On May 5, Gov. Greg Abbot announced a state reopening plan that will come into effect on May 8.
The State of Utah's essential employees falls under the 14 categories listed by CISA, with special emphasis on childcare, and suppliers and distribution centers.
Utah does not have a shelter in place order in place, but has asked residents to "stay safe, stay home."
Vermont recognizes the essential employees listed above, with a special emphasis on childcare facilities and services.
On March 25, Gov. Phil Scott issued a "Stay Home, Stay Safe" order which directs all nonessential businesses to close until May 15.
Virginia recognizes healthcare providers, public workers, and emergency services as essential employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On March 24, Gov. Ralph Northam ordered all Virginia schools and non-essential businesses will be closed until mid-June.
Essential employees in the State of Washington include all those recognized by CISA, including healthcare, manufacturing, and public work.
On March 23, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order requiring residents to stay at home that will last until May 31.
West Virginia essential employees all fall under the 14 categories listed above, with the addition of employees working in hardware stores, motels and hotels, and laundry services.
On April 30, Gov. Jim Justice released a modified order that will allow some nonessential businesses to reopen.
Essential businesses and employees allowed to remain operating include banks, pharmacies, grocery stores, and gas stations. Wisconsin also recognizes the 14 categories listed by CISA as essential.
On March 25, Gov. Tony Evers issued a "Safer at Home" order that prohibits all nonessential businesses from opening. The order will end on May 26.
Wyoming's essential employees fall under the 14 categories. In addition, the state recognizes that all healthcare, emergency services, and public workers are vital during the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is no statewide stay at home order in place. However, on March 19, Gov. Mark Gordon ordered the closing of all public places for a two-week period. These include theaters, bars, salons, and restaurants.
The above table was updated on 06/05/2020. Information may change as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to develop.
Resources for Employers:
- Guide to the new Paycheck Protection Program.
- See our complete guide to U.S. employer resources.
- COVID-19 Business Continuity Plan.
- How to hire temporary workers.
- Can small business owners collect unemployment insurance.
- Resources for small business owners affected by Coronavirus.
What is considered an essential employee?
Essential employees are defined as employees who perform duties that involve the safety of human life, the protection of property, and the maintenance of important infrastructures. The definition [may vary by state](#essential-employees-by-state].
Who are essential personnel during state of emergency?
- Healthcare employees.
- First responders.
- Food and agriculture employees.
- Energy employees.
- Water and sanitation.
- Transportation and logistics.
- Public workers.
- Communications and information technology.
- Community-based government operations and essential functions.
- Financial services.
- Hazardous material management employees.
- Defense industrial base.
- Chemical management employees.
What is a nonessential employee?
The definition of a nonessential employee varies from state to state, but generally, it includes employees who do not work in healthcare, infrastructure, public works, food production and distribution, emergency services, and communications.
What is a nonessential government employee?
This can vary between states, but generally essential employees are those who work in hospitals, policing, prisons, emergency services, and infrastructure maintenance.