What Does It Mean When You Find Out Your Job Is Considered "Non-essential"?

We all like to think of ourselves as essential parts of our workforce, so when the announcement came that all non-essential employees would either be working from home, or just waiting at home for coronavirus to abate, a lot of people had to face the truth: their jobs might not be as indispensable as they thought. So, what does it mean, now and in the future, to be considered a non-essential employee?  Here are the answers to your most pressing questions.

What does Non-essential

What is the difference between a non-essential industry/job and a non-essential employee?

A non-essential industry is one that does not cater to people’s immediate needs during the pandemic.  Obviously, healthcare, first responders, food supply, trash collection, and news media all qualify as essential industries. Others are in more of a gray area, such as clothing retailers, which provide a vital product during normal times, but are not necessarily crucial during a quarantine. Non-essential industries are the ones that everyone can survive without, such as bowling alleys, movie theaters, and bars. They tend to be mostly entertainment oriented. 

Generally, most people who work in non-essential industries are going to fall into the non-essential job category. However, a non-essential job can occur within an essential industry. For example, a telecommunications company might be considered vital for providing updates on the virus. However, the salespeople or ad designers who spend their days trying to attract new customers may not be needed on-site until after the curve has flattened. This does not mean they are dispensable. It simply means the risk of spreading the virus currently outweighs the necessity of these individuals showing up at the office.

Is my boss going to decide she doesn’t need me anymore?  

Just because your job is not essential during a crisis does not mean it is not extremely important under normal circumstances. Unless your boss figures out in your absence that on a normal day you spend 90 percent of your time playing Tetris and the other 10 percent moving papers around on your desk, you should be okay. 

The term “non-essential” is actually misleading.  It should be called “not worth risking your life and the lives of others when there is a deadly pandemic circulating,” but that is too long to fit into a headline.  So, try not to take it personally when your boss tells you that you are in the dreaded non-essential category. You’ll be able to prove your worth once again when regular life resumes.

Will provisionally non-essential jobs become permanently non-essential?

There is no doubt the coronavirus pandemic is going to have lasting effects. It is possible some industries might never completely rebound, because it is likely that people’s daily habits may be altered for the long term. For example, many people might discover that they would rather go for walks outside than spend their time shopping at the mall. Or they may find they actually prefer take-out food to dining in.  This could make some jobs less necessary on a more lasting basis. However, it is unlikely this will occur on a wide scale.

For the most part, when the crisis is over, life—and business—should basically return to normal. We may not need to visit a theme park or attend a rock concert right now, but that doesn’t mean we won’t want to do all of our favorite activities again once we can. And while working from home is sufficient at the current the time, most employees and employers prefer seeing each other face-to-face on a regular basis.

It’s hard not to feel a little twinge in the pit of your stomach when being told your job is non-essential.  Even though we all want to do our part to lessen the effects of coronavirus, that doesn’t make reality sting any less. But try not to look at it as a slap in the face. It really has nothing to do with “real life.” It is a temporary condition that will, like the virus itself, eventually pass.

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