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Business Coronavirus Opinion

What is an Essential Employee now that coronavirus is shutting everything down?


Governments are shutting down businesses they feel are not essential. Today, they are defining essential as anything that has to do with keeping people alive: hospitals, grocery stores, hardware stores,  and pharmacies are a good example. What if you need new windshield wipers, tires, or your car repaired? Suppose your water heater bursts or your roof starts leaking? Philadelphia found itself defining bicycle and cell phone repair as essential. There are no hard and fast rules and what doesn’t seem essential today becomes essential tomorrow.


Of course, utility companies must continue to deliver electric, gas, oil, propane, water, etc. Cable and telephone companies are essential for communication and internet. Is TV essential with all the streaming stuff  and radio still out there?


That brings us to essential employees. They’re loosely defined as people designated as required to work when an office closing is authorized, usually in operations that must provide services around the clock.


So the people working in the electric generating station are essential, but the folks back in the electric company office working in marketing, accounting, or customer service may not be needed when the office is closed for an extended period of time.


But even in the event the office is closed, non-essential employees can continue their jobs at home if there is still work for them to do. So, does this automatically make them an essential employee? That’s where the definitions get hairy.
The city of Chester is a perfect example of how much of a grey area this essential/non-essential thing can become. At first they closed their offices to the public. Everyone was sent home who were non-essential which was just about everyone. However, the work of the city can’t come to a complete halt. I’m sure a lot of work was being done at home by essential employees. The truly non-essential employees have been laid off. Their absence will either not affect city business during the closing, or other essential employees will be picking up their tasks, making them even more essential as an employee. This is where we could go down the rabbit hole even further and talk about essential functions.


Essential versus non-essential is decided on a case by case basis by employers. It usually isn’t stuck in stone, so as things change, so could the employees, industries, and functions working as essential or not.


There is likely a bunch of essential workers working their butts off right now. There’s some non-essential workers working as well but aren’t required to come to the place of business to get their job done. And then there’s the non-essential workers who have no work to do right now because their business is closed. Some are getting paid to stay at home, others are getting laid off.
Essential versus non-essential is not a clear cut thing.

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