Are Contractors and Construction Work Essential? For Many Locations, Yes

March 24th, 2020 by Jordan Scott

As more states put restrictions on non-essential work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, contractors are paying close attention to which side construction falls. In many states, construction is considered essential work and allowed to continue. However, that’s not the case everywhere.

Where is Construction Shut Down?

Boston suspended non-essential construction activity last week and most commercial projects are considered non-essential in San Francisco, which has imposed strict shelter-in-place measures to mitigate COVID-19’s spread. While most commercial construction projects have been stopped, especially office construction, some construction can continue, including:

  • Construction of housing, in particular affordable housing or housing for individuals experiencing homelessness;
  • Construction of a mixed-used project with commercial uses and a significant housing component;
  • Unless a construction project is a healthcare facility, it is only allowed if it is necessary to the operation or maintenance of “essential infrastructure,” as that term is defined in the order. For example, Meals on Wheels is in the middle of building a new kitchen facility that would serve vulnerable populations. This construction project would be permitted to continue as essential infrastructure;
  • Residential renovation projects of any kind that are currently underway may continue if necessary for a safe, sanitary and functional home. Likewise, residential remodeling projects that are partly completed may continue if delaying completion would pose a safety, security or sanitation risk to residents or impact the habitability of the residence; and
  • Remodel or renovation projects that have not begun must be deferred unless it is necessary to restore a home to a safe, sanitary and habitable space.

Where is Construction Considered Essential?

The list of states mandating stay at home orders for non-essential work is changing rapidly. In Illinois and Ohio construction is essential according to their mandates, which began March 21 in Illinois and begin March 24 in Ohio. Both mandates are effective through April 6.

Construction is also considered essential in New York according to an executive order which will last through April 17. However, some New York City councilmembers wrote a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio on March 18 asking that non-essential construction be suspended.

In Delaware, nonresidential and residential construction are both considered essential. The order will begin at 8 a.m. on March 24.

Massachusetts ordered today that non-essential businesses are under stay at home orders beginning noon on March 24 through noon on April 7. While Boston has shut down non-essential construction, construction workers who support the construction, operation, inspection and maintenance of construction sites and construction projects (including housing construction) are considered essential in Massachusetts.

Construction is also considered essential statewide in California, Connecticut and Louisiana.

As no federal mandate has been made, contractors are left to wait as individual states, municipalities and owners/developers make calls about shutting down jobsites.

Some organizations are calling for government officials to classify construction work as essential. The chief executive officer of the Associated General Contractors of America, Stephen E. Sandherr, and the president of North America’s Building Trades Unions, Sean McGarvey, issued the following joint statement urging government officials to exempt construction work from regional, state and local mandates: “Government officials at all levels should treat the construction industry and the work it performs as vital and essential to the critical industries that must remain in operation. Construction workers provide an invaluable economic service, maintaining and improving the nation’s infrastructure, including critically important energy and communication systems, roads and bridges, and social infrastructure, including police, fire and healthcare facilities.

“Construction workers’ unique skills are essential now and in the coming weeks to construct, maintain and repair critical infrastructure, and to build temporary health facilities and retrofit and expand existing ones. Labor and management construction industry partners continue to monitor and provide guidance on all recommended health and safety jobsite precautions for construction workers so that proper measures are deployed to ensure a safe work environment for those on the job.”

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