What employees can report to work during the COVID-19 pandemic?

What businesses are essential during the COVID-19 global pandemic? And which employees must remain subject to quarantine and which ones will federal, state, and local authorities permit to travel to their place of business to support infrastructure critical to the nation's economy?

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has provided guidance for workers whose skills are essential to support 16 different critical infrastructure areas that support the nation's economy including communications, information technology (IT), transit, food, energy, and commerce.

DHS's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued a memorandum 19 March 2020 to help identify Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to CISA, the list is intended "to help State and local officials as they work to protect their communities." While CISA says it will defer to state, local, tribal, and territorial government decisions about which workers may escape shelter-in-place mandates and other limits on worker mobility, CISA has offered this list as "to assist prioritizing activities related to continuity of operations and incident response, including the appropriate movement of critical infrastructure workers within and between jurisdictions."

In the IT sector, for example, DHS CISA identifies the following employees as "essential": 
  • Workers who support command centers, including, but not limited to Network Operations Command Center, Broadcast Operations Control Center, and Security Operations Command Center
  • Data center operators, including system administrators, HVAC & electrical engineers, security personnel, IT managers, data transfer solutions engineers, software and hardware engineers, and database administrators
  • Client service centers, field engineers, and other technicians supporting critical infrastructure, as well as manufacturers and supply chain vendors that provide hardware and software, and information technology equipment (to include microelectronics and semiconductors) for critical infrastructure
  • Workers responding to cyber incidents involving critical infrastructure, including medical facilities, SLTT governments and federal facilities, energy and utilities, and banks and financial institutions, and other critical infrastructure categories and personnel
  • Workers supporting the provision of essential global, national, and local infrastructure for computing services (including cloud computing services), business infrastructure, web-based services, and critical manufacturing
  • Workers supporting communications systems and information technology used by law enforcement, public safety, medical, energy, and other critical industries
  • Support required for continuity of services, including janitorial/cleaning personnel

While CISA's list of essential workers is extensive, practical application will vary from locality to locality. In San Francisco, for example, the city's Shelter-in-Place Order issued on 16 March 16 2020 requires all individuals anywhere in San Francisco to stay at home. Individuals may leave only to perform “Essential Activities,” which include providing essential products and services at an “Essential Business.” Moreover, all businesses within San Francisco County, except “Essential Businesses,” must cease operations above “Minimum Basic Operations.” The definition of “Essential Business” not only encompasses grocery stores, healthcare facilities, senior living, and other common groups, but also includes: (1) businesses that supply products needed for people to work from home; and (2) businesses that supply other essential businesses with the support or supplies necessary to operate. CISA's guidance should help San Francisco and other localities determine what activities support "essential businesses" or otherwise eligible for local exemptions from travel restrictions.  

Employers concerned about staffing businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic that may fall  into one of the sixteen categories of critical infrastructure identified by DHS should review the CISA list of essential workers for guidance and consult with local officials. We are available to help as well.


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