Minnesota, Vermont Designate Grocery Workers as Essential Personnel During COVID-19 Pandemic

Author: Robert S. Teachout, XpertHR Legal Editor

March 20, 2020

Minnesota and Vermont have designated grocery store workers as essential personnel for purposes of their state emergency plans. The designation is used for state programs that provide free childcare to employees who are required to work during a declared state emergency, such as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

In the wake of the rapidly expanding coronavirus outbreak, state governments have issued orders restricting business operations and encouraging social distancing. Exceptions are limited to employees whose work is essential to keeping needed services running, such as emergency services, utilities, health care and food distribution. These steps have created a challenge for businesses as employers look for ways to prepare and protect their employees and the workplace.

This week, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz issued an executive order to provide childcare for the school-aged children of emergency workers. In guidance issued following the order, "food distribution workers" were classified as essential tier 2 employees for whom school districts should consider providing childcare in order to allow vital services to continue. "Food distribution workers" include:

  • Store clerks;
  • Stockers;
  • Meat and produce staff;
  • Food preparation personnel;
  • Food distribution truckers and warehouse workers; and
  • Cleaning and sanitation staff.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott issued a similar order encouraging childcare centers to stay open where needed to provide services to emergency workers, including health care workers and public health employees, criminal justice personnel and law enforcement officers, first responders, members of the National Guard and some state employees. On Wednesday, the state Department of Public Safety added grocery store workers, utility workers and telecommunications workers.

The designations highlight the important role grocery workers have played in ensuring the supply of food and supplies to a homebound population, and in handling runs on grocery stores that have emptied shelves.