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What jobs are exempt from Michigan coronavirus lockdown? You may be surprised.


Total statewide workers: 4,318,000

  • Total estimated workers who can reasonably claim exemption: Approximately 1 million
  • Health care and public health:  340,000
  • Law Enforcement, Public Safety & First Responders: 59,500
  • Food and agriculture: 72,000
  • Energy: At least 7,000
  • Water and wastewater treatment & public works: At least 4,000
  • Transportation and logistics: 260,500
  • Communications & information technology, including news media: 84,000
  • Community-based government operations & essential functions: Not immediately known
  • Hazardous materials: At least 650
  • Financial services: 95,000
  • Chemical supply chains & safety: At least 10,000
  • Defense industrial base: Not immediately known

Source: Bridge analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics Database. All job figures are for 2018.


Update: Police: Don’t expect us to enforce Michigan’s confusing coronavirus lockdown.

LANSING — Liquor stores, home repair businesses and auto repair shops can stay open. Car dealers and most construction companies probably can’t. 


So are many employers and residents, who are scrambling to interpret Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Monday order that all businesses — except those deemed “essential” — remain closed until at least April 13 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Her order, which mirrors federal guidance and orders in Ohio and other states, includes exemptions to 16 industries including energy and chemical supply, wastewater treatment, health care and more.

That means autism therapists, supermarket clerks, bankers and sanitation workers will still show up for their jobs. It’s less clear whether construction workers or small manufacturers are exempt.

“I know this is going to be disruptive, and it’s certainly going to be hard on our economy as well,” Whitmer said in a press conference Monday morning. “But our action will save lives.”

All told, the exempted industries represent roughly 1 million of the state’s 4.3 million jobs, according to a Bridge Magazine analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. 

The broad exemptions follow a weekend of lobbying by industry groups to exempt some businesses from the lockdown. Whitmer’s order also allows companies to designate employees that are necessary “to conduct minimum basic operations.”

Many businesses that weren’t included in the new order had been shut down by Whitmer in previous directives, such as restaurants that can continue to offer carryout and delivery service only. Pot shops, meanwhile, can only sell to customers curbside or by delivery.

“To use a phrase we all know now, I think this probably bends the curve some, but I think the curve was already strongly headed in this direction,” said Michigan State University economist Charles Ballard.

“It might be that it just gets some people’s attention” who had not previously heeded public health warnings, he said.

Employment sectors exempt from the order — including health care, public safety, food and agriculture, energy, transportation and public works — are “a lot of the economy,” Ballard said. 

“I think there would have been tremendous public pressure to keep all those things open regardless of what the governor would have said,” Ballard said.

Still manufacturing, construction and other industries that rely on in-person work that haven’t yet been forced to shut down are likely to face big losses. Last week, more than 108,000 Michigan residents filed for unemployment insurance, the most since at last 1987. 

Patrick Anderson, founder of the Anderson Economic Group in East Lansing, last week predicted as many as 1.4 million workers could suffer at least two days of lost wages because of the coronavirus. After Whitmer's order, he predicted that number could climb to 2 million, or nearly half of all the state’s workers.The order goes into effect 12:01 a.m. Tuesday and will continue through April 13. The rules require that businesses whose operations aren’t “necessary to sustain or protect life” shut most in-person operations. 


Businesses not deemed essential are still allowed to “conduct minimum basic operations” and decide for themselves which employees are necessary to show up to keep work flowing. 

That is “kind of an honor system,” said Charles Owens, director of the National Federation of Independent Business in Michigan.  

He argued the exception gives business “flexibility” so they don’t burden state agencies clarifying whether they’re essential. Ballard agreed the exemption is “sensible.”

“If a business shuts down all the way and nothing is happening, the cost of getting back up is higher than it would be if you go down to kind of a low level but things are kind of still being tended to,” Ballard said. 

Essential workers

Business groups including Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Detroit Regional Chamber and the Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM) urged Whitmer on Friday to avoid a stay at home order because of concerns that a broad order could have a massive impact on the economy. 

But those leaders now say the provisions allowing businesses to keep on essential workers — and ones that allow essential companies to identify critical suppliers to keep working — will help prevent economic collapse while maintaining public safety. 

“This order is very, very thoughtful in addressing some of the problems we’ve seen in other states,” said Brian Calley, president of SBAM. 

In states that were the first to implement stay at home orders such as California and New York, the policies didn’t include exemptions for businesses outside of the designated essential industries. 

Michigan’s is closer to Ohio’s stay at home order, which also allows for businesses to continue basic operations. 

Whitmer warned businesses Monday that those who don’t comply will face fines: “Don’t play fast and loose with what is essential and what’s not. Don’t try to skirt the rules.”

Violations are punishable by a fine of up to $500 or 90 days in jail, said Kelly Rossman-McKinney, a spokeswoman for Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. 

Enforcing the order will be up to local law enforcement officials, but the attorney general's office has agreed to lead any prosecutions, which Rossman-McKinney expects to be rare. 

"It would have to be a pretty egregious violation," she said. 

During earlier orders limiting movement, local law enforcement officials such as Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said they expect to first warn violators.


Throughout the day Monday, Whitmer’s administration issued a series of clarifications intended to curb confusion about her order.

For instance, auto dealerships will close but auto repair and service shops can remain open, provided they follow social distancing requirements. 

Hotels and motels may remain open to provide shelter and basic needs but must close gyms, pools, spas, entertainment faculties, meetings rooms and in-person dining rooms.

The order appears to give employers a fair amount of latitude to determine who is essential, said Joel Sklar, a Detroit-based employment attorney. 

“For those employees who have been identified as being essential, it puts them in a difficult position,” Sklar said. 

Employees could face a conundrum: go to work and risk potential exposure to the virus, or stay home and risk getting fired. 

“At this point, my guess is that if the employer identifies you and designates you as essential, and you don’t show, certainly you may be terminated and can be disciplined,” Sklar said. “It’s a very real possibility.” 

Jay Bergamini, an attorney based in Eaton Rapids, said she fielded multiple calls from workers Monday asking what the order means for them. In one instance, a water heater manufacturer was trying to “avoid” closure by deeming employees essentia, she said. 

“I’m telling my clients, ‘Screw your companies, stay home,’” Bergamini said. 

Despite the clarifications from Whitmer, some “gray area” remains, Rob Fowler, CEO of the Small Business Association of Michigan, said in a Facebook webcast on Monday.

Are fence installers essential? Probably only if they are installing a fence for another company like an electric utility that has a "critical infrastructure workforce," said Calley of the small business group.

Can a liquor store stay open if it also sells bread and milk? "I think it would be covered," Calley said, noting food and agriculture industry guidelines in a federal memo that Whitmer's order relies upon. 

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