To slow the spread of the Coronavirus, your state may still require workers to stay at home unless they are considered “essential” workers. 

An essential worker performs work “essential to continued critical infrastructure viability,” according to CISA, the U.S. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency.  Essential work is vital for public health and safety and community well-being. 

If you are an essential worker, you should go to work if you cannot work remotely. 

There’s an exception to this rule. If you’re over 60 or have underlying medical conditions that put you at risk, let your employer know and apply for unemployment insurance right away. 

What if you’re an essential worker, under 60, healthy, and worry it is unsafe to return to work?

Some essential workers may not necessarily want to return to work.

You may be wondering, “Can I quit and collect unemployment insurance?”

 The short answer is no.

But if you’re genuinely anxious about returning to an essential job, call your employer and ask if they can arrange special accommodations as a courtesy. Remember, though, your employer is not legally required to make special arrangements for you if you’re under 60 with no underlying medical conditions.

What makes someone an “essential worker” during this crisis?

If your job falls in one of the following categories below, you are considered an essential worker.

Other than work, you should stay at home except to go to the doctor, grocery shopping, or get outside for exercise unless state authorities advise otherwise:  

1.  Healthcare and Public Health

2.  Emergency Services Sector Including Law Enforcement, Public Safety, and First Responders

3.  Food and Agriculture

4.  Energy

5.  Water and Wastewater

6.  Transportation and Logistics

7.  Communications and Information Technology

8.  Community-Based Government Operations

9.  Critical Manufacturing (medical supplies, food, energy, etc.)

10.  Hazardous Materials

11.  Financial Services

12.  Chemicals

13.  Defense Industrial Base

If you are unsure whether you are an essential worker, call your employer first.  

If you are still unclear about your job, here are some suggested resources to help you determine if your specific job is part of the essential workforce in your state. These rules generally follow CISA’s guidance defining the essential workforce.

Here are California’s rules.

Here are Florida’s rules

Here are Georgia’s rules

Here are Illinois’ rules

Here are New York’s rules

Here are Texas’ rules.  

If your home state is not listed above, or you can’t find your state’s guidance on the web, the CISA Guidance is an excellent place to start. 

Otherwise, contact LawChamps for a referral to a qualified employment lawyer in your area.  

In the next few weeks, I’ll be answering other questions for employees and small employers, such as:

1.  Can I get hazard pay for working during the coronavirus as an essential worker?

2.  If my employer furloughed me or reduced my hours, does unemployment make up the difference in lost pay? Does my employer have to pay me back-pay to make up for the reduction/lost work?

3.  What do I do if I’m worried about safety conditions at work once I’m asked to return? What precautions do employers have to take?

4.  If I am self-employed or a consultant and my major client stops using my services because of the economic fallout from the coronavirus, can I get unemployment benefits?

5.  I’m a small employer. How do I safely reopen my business? What protections do I owe my employees, customers, and business visitors?


Until then, stay safe, stay sane, and stay in touch with friends and family.

This article is intended to convey generally useful information only and does not constitute legal advice. Any opinions expressed are solely those of the author, not LawChamps.

Lawrence M. Glasner, JD, MBA

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