“A key worker, critical worker or essential worker is a public-sector or private-sector employee who is considered to provide an essential service. The term has been used in the United Kingdom in the context of workers who may find it difficult to buy property in the area where they work. “ — Wikipedia

Umm …

Since we may well be heading for another lockdown shortly because of reasons, it seems important for many of us to know ahead just who is essential. Are you essential? I’m not, something that I should have guessed. Exactly how are “essential” and “non-essential” defined? The answer may surprise you. Or scare you.

As I noted in recent posts, we appear headed into a time of “control and surveillance” implemented by rapidly developing Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs) and by digital IDs. Much of the necessary infrastructure and systems is in place today. Almost globally.

It is being rolled out quietly and diversely so as not to arouse concerns among those who may see this as a very bad idea, or worse.

You, like myself, may have wondered a bit about the COVID lockdowns and vaxx mandates requiring more than a “temporary” distinction between essential and non-essential workers. These definitions seem to have become embedded in official documents, not exactly as you might expect to handle a temporary situation. The explanation here of course is that the identification of such workers will be a continuing – aka permanent – requirement. But why?

So, as part of our “identification” data set, we probably now have an essential/non-essential ID marker based on what it is we do. Might be important to know just how each of us are being so classified, yes?

Are you essential or non-essential?

You will be happy to know, or maybe not, that the worker classification here has been pretty much done. Already, yet. It is of course based on the work, not the individual, meaning that folks who are in non-essential jobs may have or can acquire skills need to work in an essential job somewhere. How comforting.

This means that your place of employment, job, or occupation determines whether the person-you is essential or non-essential. It is your employer or principal source of income that determines, not you. You could be a super-star at whatever it is that you do, but you could be classified officially as non-essential if your workplace is non-essential. How comforting. But troubling.

You could be an absolutely essential, and even irreplaceable, person in your business or organization, but for official (government) purposes you may be non-essential if your business or organization is deemed non-essential. Seems a bit like Orwell’s 1984, yes?

And this classification would not of course somehow find its way into your digital ID. Surely not.

This situation tells me that the essential/non-essential classification has other purposes beyond a “temporary” means of dealing with a nasty COVID critter, which oddly seems to have vanished. One might even go so far as to suspect some connection with the current global drive toward full-population surveil-and-control.

Why are we being classified as essential and non-essential?

Much to my surprise, and possibly also to yours, there appears to be a business-as-usual necessity (non-temporary) for such a classification of jobs, aka functions:

Natalie De Spain via Eddy, an employee management software provider, explains in some detail the non-pandemic non-lockdown reasons for the essential/non-essential functions of jobs: “Non-Essential Job Functions”:

Essential vs. Non-Essential Job Functions. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), prohibits discrimination against a qualified applicant or employee because of a disability. They define essential functions as the basic job duties an employee must be able to perform, with or without reasonable accommodation. (Accommodation is to adjust a job or work environment so a person with a disability can perform their job duties, like building a wheelchair ramp or buying software to help people with visual impairments use a computer.)”

“In other words, if a candidate can complete essential job duties with accommodation, you may not discriminate against them in the hiring process. Therefore, it’s important legally to clearly define which duties are essential and which are not, and label them as such in the job description.”

Why You Need to Know If a Function Is Essential or Non-Essential. There are several reasons why you need to know if a function is essential or not. Some reasons are related to the law, whereas others are simply good for your business. It’s important for an employer to identify if a function is essential or not when writing job descriptions.”

Compliance. Adhering to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) helps both the employer and employee. One of the main reasons it’s important for a job description to include both essential and non-essential job functions is because it can protect employers when faced with discrimination claims from employees. Additionally, employees who are able to perform the essential functions of their job are protected from potential discrimination from an employer. Not complying with this law can leave a company subject to discrimination claims.”

Set candidate expectations. Candidates need clear expectations of a position’s job functions for multiple reasons. They need to understand what their potential new role will consist of to see if it aligns with what they are searching for. They also need to assess if they are qualified for the position, and looking at the essential job functions will help to do that. Additionally, knowing the essential job functions can help candidates prepare to request an accommodation, if appropriate.”

Set employer expectations. It’s important to clearly communicate which functions of a job are essential or non-essential to set clear expectations with the employer as well. Hiring managers should be familiar with which functions are essential or not as they are posting positions and looking for qualified new team members. A hiring manager is one of the best people to determine what functions of a job are essential or not. In addition to knowing the essential job functions, they should be familiar with the ADA, what potential accommodations may look like, and how to address an accommodation request appropriately.”

I don’t know about you, but the use of “essential” and “non-essential” here seems to me to be very strange. How about “required” and “optional”?

And who decides whether a function is essential or non-essential? The government, of course – not the employer (who probably shouldn’t even be hiring non-essential workers). This does not make any sense, to me at least.

In any case, these EEOC/ADA folks had to know about the lockdown classifications, which appear to conflict with the employment classifications. You might be performing “essential” (ADA, EEOC version) functions that the other guys (CDC) say is “non-essential” because it is in a “non-essential” business. Maybe this is just one more example of our tax dollars at work – non-essential work, that is.

No matter. We now have a legal basis for a competing essentiality classification. Why? This means that being classified for our essentiality will never go away, just like so much other government meddling and mischief.

Is my business or organization essential?

Thanks to the ever-helpful U.S. Department of Homeland Security, we have a classification scheme that is intended for “emergencies” – including the kind that never goes away: “Essential work: Employment and outlook in occupations that protect and provide”:

Defining ‘essential’:
What’s considered essential work in emergencies may vary, depending on where you live. Guidelines from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) suggest that the essential workforce includes those who provide:”

  • public health and safety,
  • essential products, and
  • other infrastructure support.

“The occupations selected for this article are just a few of the hundreds of occupations that the Labor Market Information (LMI) Institute identifies as being part of the critical infrastructure workforce, as outlined by the DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). (See illustration 1.)”

Source: https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2020/article/essential-work.htm
Source: https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2020/article/essential-work.htm

Defining “essential” in yet another way

Critical infrastructure aside, there are quite a few – a majority in fact – workers who are employed in non-critical infrastructure workplaces. Very conveniently however, the CDC via NIOSH have worked up an essentiality classification covering all workers in the BLS-tracked civilian labor force of about 165 million today. Note that there are about 100 million other people (non-workers?) not in the BLS labor force. Including myself, who is as employed as I have ever been (by myself).


I addressed this inconvenient 100-million discrepancy quite a while back in COVID-1.0 days: see for example here and here. It includes the self-employed, freelancers, gig workers, and such. Are we essential or not?

We might be classified should anyone care to according to our type of business or some functions elsewhere. Function seems to be another term for occupation. With this terminology, we can find out our CDC essentiality, for whatever that may be worth. If lockdown 2.0, does occur, you bet that it will be important.

From the CDC and NIOSH: “Essential Workers Code Set. Identify Essential Workers for Public Health Data Collection and Analysis”:

“This information is for public health researchers and academics who need to identify essential workers during data collection or data analysis. This set of industry and occupation codes supports data collection and analyses related to the COVID-19 pandemic and other public health crises.”

“It is a code-based approach to identify workers in essential critical infrastructure industries as defined by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).”

“The industry and occupation codes are included in a spreadsheet, which contains:

  • North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) industry titles and codes
  • Census industry titles and codes
  • Essential industry designations that correspond to CISA’s version 4.0 advisory list on the essential critical infrastructure workforce
  • Population estimates by six-digit NAICS industry, Census industry, and Census industry-occupation pair

This code set is different from other essential worker lists because it was created for research purposes.”

“This set of industry and occupation codes provide standardized codes based on the industries and occupations outlined by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and is meant for research purposes*.

“CISA has published four versions of an advisory list that identify essential critical infrastructure workers to inform state and local shutdown orders and industry-level occupational health decisions during the COVID-19 response. The CISA advisory list has been widely applied as the best national definition of essential workers in research studies but version 4.0 has not been mapped to detailed standardized Census codes for use from a public health perspective, until now. Our essential worker industry code set fills this gap.”

The spreadsheet with all of this data can be found at this link (note: this is a CDC download link, not a page link). You can quickly find your occupation or function and the various industry classifications in which such work is performed. Note that it is based on the 2019 civilian labor force of about 155 million.

Essential workers code set occupations

The above-linked spreadsheet includes these 2010 Census-based occupation titles (483 in total) – top 99 only below:

Top occupation titles - 1.
Top occupation titles - 2.
Top occupation titles - 3.

Can’t find your current or primary occupation in the extract above? I’m not in there either. You’ll have to go into the full occupations list (note: this is a CDC download link, not a page link) to find where you fit. Note that these 483 occupations are not classified directly as essential or non-essential. You’ll have to find your industry for that.

An example: myself with my management consultant hat on

I am a management consultant on my most recent Census form. However, no such official occupation, so I had to find some close matches.

Occupation titles: These fit, sort of and to some extent. I’m a mixture:

Occupation titles that might fit.

CIC Industry Code: Now for the relevant industry, which shows the essentiality classification (this is what my Census form shows):

Management consulting is CIC 7390.

CIC Essential Industry Designation: Last step is to get the Census title detail for CIC 7390. Of course, CIC 7390 has a whole bunch of sub-titles:

NAICS codes and title for 7390.

No idea where the rightmost column figure came from, and not worth digging to find out. The big story is that my good old CIC 7390 is a mess of essential and non-essential functions/occupations (Designation “2”). After all of this work, I have learned that I may be either essential or non-essential – probably dependent on the business or organization involved (aka myself). My guess is that I’m solidly non-essential (or maybe both).

What might “non-essential” mean for me in practice, you might ask?

Applied non-essentiality

Figuring on a likely lockdown 2.0 in the relatively near future due to reasons, I think that it may be worth figuring out what non-essentiality might mean for me. Assuming that 2.0 will be relatively the same as 1.0, except perhaps for more rigid enforcement, the following restrictions on personal freedom seem likely:

  • Travel restrictions
  • Social distancing
  • Curfews
  • Stay-at-home or shelter-in-place
  • Quarantines
  • Masks
  • Occupancy limits
  • Testing and symptom screening
  • Reporting

Most of these would require a work-from-home restriction, which is pretty much what I have been doing for about 50 years apart from travel. Travel restrictions today can be largely handled by Zoom calls and meetings. Getting supplies, food, and such can be handled by delivery services.

Thinking a bit further on a lockdown (or martial law) situation, I might want to complete development and offer online coaching services – probably with a leadership focus initially. I had done quite a lot of work on this just prior to COVID-19 disruptions, but the approach would have to be updated to take advantage of current learning platforms and online collaboration tools like Zoom – video conferencing, team chat, webinars, and similar functions.

You might want to carry out a similar essentiality analysis to see how your work and operations might be affected and how you might manage around likely restrictions.

Bottom line:

We seem likely to be heading for another lockdown shortly because of reasons, which makes it important for most of us to know ahead if we are essential. This knowledge is critical to making preparations for managing a business or organization while we have relative freedom to do so.

Applying this guidance to my definitely non-essential self, I see that only minor changes would be required – plus an updating and rollout of a previously planned online leadership coaching service.

  • Kit Knightly via The Burning Platform has a brief update on digital IDs status, no doubt including our essentiality: “While you were watching Israel”:

“’We need a new approach to digital identity’, so say the authors of an ‘Agenda Article’ for the World Economic Forum, published on the 28th of September. Digital ID has been in the news a lot lately, obscured for the past week in the mist of the Israel-Hamas situation.”

“Last month the United Nation Developments Programme published its legal guidelines for digital IDs as well as ‘mobilizing’ global leadership with a $400mn fund to ‘empower’ digital identity programs in over 100 countries.”

“Various nations are already making steps in that direction. Multiple US states are either already issuing digital IDs or planning to in the near future, as are Kenya, Somalia, Bhutan and Singapore. Austria’s system is going online in December.”

“Just last week, Forbes Australia published it’s guide to what ‘Australians need to know’ about digital IDs, and 9News reported that they could be in place as soon as next year. Just two days ago, the Journal of Australian Law Society predicted the same thing.”

  • Reproduced below is the CISA’s guidelines information on identifying essential work functions during times of community restrictions aka lockdowns: “Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce”, Revision Date August 13, 2021 (still in force despite COVID-19 disappearing):
CISA header.


The Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce Guidance Version 4.1 provides guidance on how jurisdictions and critical infrastructure owners can use the list to assist in prioritizing the ability of essential workers to work safely while supporting ongoing infrastructure operations across the Nation.  

CISA issued the guidance originally on March 19, 2020 and published four additional updates to reflect the changing landscape of the Nation’s COVID-19 response. Earlier versions were primarily intended to help officials and organizations identify essential work functions in order to allow them access to their workplaces during times of community restrictions. As circumstances have changed over the course of the pandemic, so has the application of this guidance.

In August 2020, Version 4.0 was released which identified those essential workers that require specialized risk management strategies to ensure that they can work safely as well as how to begin planning and preparing for the allocation of scare resources used to protect essential workers against COVID-19. The latest version (4.1) remains largely unchanged from the 4.0. With newer and more contagious variants of the virus emerging, CISA wants to newly encourage the use of this Guidance to further reduce the frequency and severity of the virus’ impact on essential workers and the infrastructures they operate.

CDC/NIOSH header.

“We applied the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia’s list of NAICS industries and essential industry designations1 corresponding to v3.0 of the CISA advisory list as a starting point for development of an updated list using CICs. We identified essential industry designations corresponding to v4.0 of the CISA advisory list for all six-digit NAICS codes and cross-walked NAICS codes and essential industry designations to CICs. We also identified estimated numbers of U.S. workers in all six-digit NAICS and Census industries. Specifically, we completed the following steps:”

“1. Broke each four-digit or five-digit NAICS code from the Philadelphia Federal Reserve list into all six-digit 2017 NAICS component industries2 (see Table 1: Essential industry designations by six-digit NAICS codes). The Philadelphia Federal Reserve list includes a mixture of four-, five-, and six-digit NAICS codes, where the level of specificity was determined as the level at which all component industries shared an essential industry designation (i.e. all industries within that code were considered essential or non-essential under v3.0 of the CISA advisory list).1 We applied the same essential industry designation as the Philadelphia Federal Reserve designation for each higher-level industry to all component industries”

“2. Identified changes to the CISA advisory list from v3.03 to v4.04 and updates to the Philadelphia Federal Reserve essential industry designations”

“(a) Updated the essential industry designations for industries that were added to or removed from the list between versions”

(b) Noted industries for which the essential industry designation for a six-digit NAICS code did not correspond to the Philadelphia Federal Reserve designation for the higher-level NAICS code, or for which our coders and CISA reviewers applied a different designation than the Philadelphia Federal Reserve coders. All essential industry designations were reviewed by three occupational health scientists and CISA representatives to minimize coder error”