Business guide to Coronavirus

Defining an ‘essential business’

Last updated 5:20pm 25 March 2020

There has been a lot of communication about non-essential businesses closing and businesses with operating restrictions to reduce the spread of coronavirus, yet it isn’t always clear as to what makes a business ‘essential’.

The Federal Government health guidelines for stopping the spread of COVID-19 are: 

These guidelines are also being used to determine which businesses fall into the essential or non-essential category. These categories regulate which businesses will be forced to close or have operating restrictions imposed.  

The businesses that are closing have a higher risk of physical exposure, which means an increased likelihood of increasing the spread of coronavirus. 

Businesses with operating restrictions are keeping people employed for as long as possible, whilst limiting the spread of coronavirus.

What is an essential business?

An essential business can be classified as any business in the health sector – including hospitals, doctor practices, pharmacies, chiropractors and physiotherapists. 

Essential businesses also currently include parts of the hospitality industry, including restaurants and cafes (however strict takeaway only rules apply), and shopping centres.

Skilled trade services for residential are still available, including electricians, plumbers and carpenters. Although many trades have had to close where their primary work was in pubs, clubs, restaurants or RSLs. 

Essentially, businesses can stay open where they are critical to health, school, trades and some retail where:

  • social or physical distancing can occur
  • the total number of people within an indoor or outdoor space can be managed
  • good hygiene practices and suitable rubbish bins, with frequent cleaning and waste disposal, occur.

It is important to note that the classification of either essential or non-essential will continually change as the situation develops.

Free COVIDSAFE Plan template

As COVID-19 restrictions are eased and employees around the country return to work, businesses continue to play a vital role in keeping the pandemic under control. Part of that is creating a COVIDSafe plan for your business.

Does your business have a COVIDSafe plan in place? Get started with our free three-step template.

Already a member? Get started

Businesses open with restrictions

Whilst non-essential business closures are wreaking havoc for many business owners and employees, there are some situations where businesses are reinventing their products or moving online to meet customer demands and keep some cash flow. 

Yoga studios have been forced to close, yet some are offering online yoga classes. Consultants are leveraging technology such as online conferencing tool Zoom to offer workshops and conduct meetings which also provides social connection, regardless of the large numbers of employees working from home.

Whether your business falls into the essential or non-essential category, Business Australia has a lot of support available to help you navigate through the challenges presented by the COVID-19 health crisis. Find out more.

Siobhann Provost

Senior Writer, Business Australia

Siobhann has over 18 years human resources business partnering experience in large organisations. She more recently established and led a people advice team of senior workplace advisors before moving into content writing.


We've compiled a list of the Frequently Asked Questions coming from our members to help your business navigate these uncertain times. We update our FAQs daily to ensure you can get the latest information.