Essential Worker vs. Essential Employer: A Vaccine Conundrum

A question that has come up a lot recently is about the difference between an essential worker and an essential employer when it comes to COVID-19 vaccine priorities. While each state has slightly different definitions of each, universal meanings can help us navigate.  

When a state talks about essential employers, they are defining the nature of the business to determine employee, visitor, and customer capacity in a building. So, an essential employer, like a grocery store or a hospital, will be allowed to have more employees in the building during spikes in COVID-19 cases in the region. Essential employer definitions are related to the business and the product or services they offer.  

On the other hand, vaccine prioritization is based on individuals and the work they perform, as well as other factors like age and health. While in some cases a worker might be eligible for a vaccine based on their employerlike a high-risk health care worker who has direct contact with COVID-19 patients, not all hospital workers would qualify, as they would not meet the high-risk definition. They might be eligible for other reasons, like age, but that eligibility is not related to their employment. Some workers at non-essential businesses will also qualify because of age or health. In other words, vaccine qualifications are based on people, not businesses.   

The short version of this is essential workers and essential employers are two completely different concepts regarding COVID-19. The former has to do with vaccine prioritization and is based on the individual; the latter has to do with lockdowns and capacity restrictions.  

For state-specific information on vaccine priority phases and eligibility, you can check the state vaccine websites below. You should also know city and county rules, as they may differ from the states’Employers Council is here to help.  

Arizona 

Colorado 

New Mexico 

Utah 

Wyoming