As jurisdictions consider shelter-in-place and stay-at-home mandates, agents are asking if agency operations are included in the definition of “Essential.”
The U.S Department of Homeland Security issued guidelines for identifying essential critical infrastructure businesses and services. These guidelines identify a number of essential industries under the Financial Services section. “Insurance Services” is included in that definition.
While many of the local orders do not mention insurance agencies specifically, they often refer to insurance generically or to “financial institutions” as essential. State officials have typically been willing to clarify and remove any doubt that agencies are essential under such a framework. It is also helpful that Treasury Secretary Mnuchin issued a memorandum noting that workers who provide “insurance services” are critical and essential.
Anyone making the case that insurance agency operations are essential might point out that:
- the work of agencies (as noted above) is essential to the functioning of our economy,
- agencies provide insurance services and are considered to be financial institutions,
- the Treasury Department and other states have come to this conclusion, and
- declaring a business or service as essential does not mean every employee will be working from the workplace.
As of March 26, there is no state mandate to shelter-in-place and Charleston, SC, and Mecklenburg County, NC, have initiated local mandates. Columbia is considering similar requirements today. All of those jurisdictions are using the federally recommended language. The South Carolina Department of Insurance considers this language satisfactory for agencies to continue to operate as necessary.