Who Are Essential Workers in Philly?

In early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived on United States soil and quickly spread throughout the country. Before long, every state had cases of COVID-19. As of late May, there have been over 1.7 million cases of COVID-19 in the United States, and over 100,000 people have died from the virus. In Pennsylvania specifically, there have been over 70,000 cases and over 5,100 deaths.

In response to the serious threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Wolf signed an executive order requiring most residents stay at home unless they are leaving for an approved reason. Among the reasons Pennsylvanians are permitted to leave home “to perform work providing essential products and services at a life-sustaining business.” Of course, this definition is not a model of clarity, and many Philadelphia workers are confused as to whether they are essential workers.

Governor Wolf’s order allows organization that perform “life-sustaining business activities” to remain open. Employees who are necessary to the functions of these business and organizations are considered essential employees. When it comes to determining what constitutes “life-sustaining business activity,” the Governor’s order references a list composed by the Department of Homeland Security. Accordingly, the following employees are those who are considered “essential” under the Governor’s order.


  • Workers involved in the maintenance of communications technology, including internet and broadband service providers.
  • Workers who support radio, television, and the media, including reporters and technicians.
  • Installation, maintenance and repair technicians that establish, support or repair service as needed.
  • Information technology workers

Food and agriculture

  • Workers supporting grocery stores, pharmacies and other retail establishments that sell food products.
  • Restaurant workers
  • Employees of food manufacturers, including food processing, slaughter houses, and beverage production facilities.
  • Farmworkers, including those employed in the manufacture of animal feed and veterinary drugs, truck drivers and other delivery employees.


  • Any position that provides COVID-19 testing, including workers who are researching vaccines and other related tests.
  • Caregivers, including doctors, nurses, physician assistants, psychologists, pharmacists, occupational therapists, social workers, pathologists.
  • Hospital and laboratory personnel, including support staff such as accountants, administrators, food service, housekeeping, information technology, nutritionists and respiratory therapists.
  • Workers in other medical facilities, including ambulatory health and surgical centers, blood banks, mental health clinics, outpatient rehabilitation facilities, home health care, hospice, and residential psychiatric facilities.
  • Manufacturers, technicians and warehouse operators, distributors of medical equipment, including personal protective equipment, medical gases, pharmaceuticals, blood and blood products, vaccines, testing materials, laboratory supplies, cleaning and sanitizing, disinfecting or sterilization supplies and tissue and paper towel products.
  • Public health workers including those who compile, model, analyze and communicate public health information
  • Security workers for other essential businesses.
  • Workers who provide food, shelter and other services to those in need.

Law enforcement

  • Police officers.
  • 911 operators.
  • Emergency medical technicians (EMTs)
  • Other emergency management employees, including fire fighters and corrections officers.
  • Sanitation workers

Public works

  • Road and bridge inspectors.
  • Construction workers involved in projects related to necessary infrastructure.
  • Waste removal employees
  • Workers who support the operation, maintenance and public safety of state parks, forests, wildlife management areas, water supply protection lands, and other critical natural resources.


  • Logistics workers.
  • Mass transit operators and support staff.
  • Maritime transportation workers.
  • Hazmat truck drivers.
  • Postal employees.
  • Moving company employees.
  • Airline workers.
  • Maintenance positions.


  • Employees who work to provide electricity.
  • Nuclear power plant employees
  • Petroleum workers, including those involved in product storage, refining, drilling and offshore operations.
  • Natural gas workers
  • Employees needed to operate and maintain public and private drinking water and wastewater/drainage infrastructure, including operational staff, repair workers and chemical disinfectant suppliers.

Other essential positions

  • Election employees
  • Building inspectors
  • Security staff who work with other essential businesses
  • Weather forecasters
  • Hotel workers
  • Critical government workers
  • Construction Workers who support the construction, operation, inspection, and maintenance of construction sites and construction projects (including housing construction).
  • Workers in recovery housing
  • Professional services, including:
    • Lawyers
    • Accountants
    • Human resources
  • Commercial retail stores that supply other essential businesses
  • Laundromats
  • Workers at places of worship
  • Bank employees
  • Chemical manufacturers
  • Defense contractors

A complete list of the DHS essential businesses and organizations can be found here, and the most current Industry Operation Guidance, issued by Governor Wolf, can be found here.

Those businesses and organizations that are nor addressed in the Governor’s order can email the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) for further assistance at [email protected].

In early May, the Governor released his three-tier system for reopening the Pennsylvania economy. At the time, all counties began in the red phase, which imposed the following restrictions:

  • Only life-sustaining businesses can remain open
  • Schools and most child care facilities are to remain closed

In mid-May, the Governor began to lift restrictions in certain counties under his three-tier reopening plan. Initially, only those counties with the least number of COVID-19 cases moved into the Yellow Phase. However, on June 5, all counties in the “red phase” will be moved into the “yellow phase,” which will impose the following restrictions:

  • Telework must continue where feasible
  • Businesses with in-person operations must follow business and building safety orders
  • Child care facilities can open, provided they comply with all guidance
  • Schools must remain closed for in-person instruction

Eventually, the Governor will move counties – either individually or in groups – into the Green Phase. During the Green Phase, the restrictions that will be in place are as follows:

  • Allowing employees to telework is still strongly encouraged
  • Businesses with in-person operations must follow business and building safety orders
  • All businesses that were limited to operating at 50 percent occupancy can increase to 75 percent occupancy
  • Child care facilities can remain open, provided they comply with all guidance
  • Schools subject to Commonwealth and CDC restrictions

Those businesses that are permitted to conduct in-person operations during the COVID-19 pandemic must follow all CDC and Commonwealth protocol to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. This includes:

  • Cleaning and disinfecting high-touch areas frequently and continue to regularly clean all other areas of the building;
  • Establishing and implementing a plan in the event a business is exposed to COVID-19:
  • Identifying employees who were in close contact with a person with a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19;
  • Taking each employee’s temperature before they enter the workplace;
  • Sending home those employees who have a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher;
  • Informing employees that they must notify a supervisor and stay home if they have symptoms of COVID-19;
  • Advising that sick employees follow all CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19;
  • Preventing large groups from entering the business;
  • Limiting the number of employees in common areas, such as break rooms;
  • Conducting as many meetings as possible virtually;
  • Providing all employees access to soap, water and hand sanitizer; and
  • Providing non-medical masks to all employees.

Additional guidance for employers conducting in-person operations can be found here.

Do You Need a Philadelphia Personal Injury Lawyer?

These challenging times raise many questions, especially for those who have contracted COVID-19. At MyPhillyLawyer, we represent those who have been seriously injured in all types of personal injury accidents, including workplace accidents and illnesses, slip and fall accidents, and instances of medical malpractice. Our skilled Philadelphia trial attorneys are comfortable both at the negotiation table as well as in court and will aggressively pursue favorable settlement offers when possible. However, we will not hesitate to take a case to trial if the other side is unwilling to engage in fair negotiations.

The lawyers and staff of MyPhillyLawyer will be working remotely due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as the health and safety of our clients, attorneys and staff members are of upmost importance. Rest assured, our operation has not been interrupted and we are still fully available to help you with legal assistance. Please contact us if you have any questions. To learn more about how we can help you recover compensation for the injuries you have sustained, call 215-254-6391, or toll-free 866-907-2231.

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