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The Vital Role of Essential Workers During Lockdowns

Updated: May 26, 2020

During lockdowns and shelter in place orders, not everyone is afforded the opportunity to work from home. Unfortunately the majority of essential service workers are generally receiving lower pay with less health insurance benefits even though they provide us all with the essential services that our communities require to exist. Our postal workers, farmers working in the fields, transportation workers, cashiers, sanitation departments and the myriad of other individuals are critical in making our system run, especially in the midst of a lockdown. They are burdened on several levels from their higher rates of exposure to COVID-19 (e.g. getting to work using public transportation, working in environments where social distancing cannot be maintained and coming into face to face contact) to experiencing challenges with finding and securing childcare. They are putting their health at risk often at low hourly rates and many have become the sole provider in their homes as others have been laid off or are unable to work. We need to build empathy and discuss policy changes for those who are placing their own health at risk to provide necessary services. These concerns were present long before COVID-19 and now they are more relevant than ever.

What May Work:

Policy changes for protecting and providing for essential workers:

  • Providing programming to ensure health services related to COVID-19 related testing, hospital care and future vaccinations are provided at no cost - as well as covering co-pays for any essential workers with private health insurance

  • Providing hazardous pay and incentives to remain working at the essential services

  • Providing paid sick and family leave

  • Protecting the financial future of family member’s of essential workers

Use of IoT and technology to limit burden on essential service workers: In Canada they are using IoT (internet of things) to remotely monitor and track health with older adults. Through this technology, older adults and healthcare workers can limit their physical interactions and maintain appropriate physical distancing. There is also the potential to utilize bin monitoring to more effectively utilize waste management systems. By using IoT, resources could be allocated to where they are most needed, limiting the contact needed to perform some tasks.

Provision for and support of child care centers: Access to reliable child care has been a struggle for many before the pandemic. Now it poses a greater challenge with schools and day care centers closed. Essential workers need to be supported with reliable and safe child care. Child care centers require support with increased need for disinfecting supplies and additional resources to maintain a safe environment for the children within their care.


Build and demonstrate empathy for employees: Recognizing that these are unprecedented times, support workers through actions that remove barriers of safely coming to work and provide a safe work environment. This includes supporting the health and well-being of the employees and their families.

Remove unnecessary moral fatigue from trade-offs that risk well-being and health: By providing sick pay/leave and family leave, an employee does not have to make the tradeoff between coming in to work sick and potentially infecting others and being able to provide financially or care for themselves and their family.

Clearly demonstrate in words and actions that safety is a priority: Direct actions and clear communication provide clarity. Demonstrating care for employees’ health and well-being can be accomplished through the provision of protective equipment, disinfecting equipment and specific social distancing plans.

General Communication:

  • Make visible the efforts and importance of the essential workers with recognition

  • Promote staying at home, mask wearing and practicing social distancing as a way to lessen the burden on the essential workers and show appreciation

  • Promote kindness and empathy - several social media accounts and articles have highlighted the gestures that individuals have shown for the essential workers, such as delivering meals from local restaurants to a essential workers at local stores, delivering gift cards to restaurants to employees at banks and gas stations, and providing meals for essential workers to take home to their families after their long shifts.


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