Uber is facing backlash after promising sick pay to drivers with Coronavirus related illnesses and now seemingly reneging on that decision.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Earlier in March, Uber announced its intention to support drivers through a Coronavirus financial assistance policy. This policy was intended to work as a form of sick pay, promising to pay drivers for up to 14 days, with the daily amount varying based on how much they had earned on the platform over the past six months, according to Business Insider.
The initial policy was met with scrutiny for only applying to those drivers who had confirmed cases of COVID-19 or were placed in quarantine by public health officials. However, due to limited testing for the virus, Uber’s policy made it nearly impossible for many drivers to prove they had or were at risk of spreading the disease.
According to its website, Uber expanded the program to include drivers who were “personally asked by a public health authority or licensed medical provider to self-isolate due to your risk of spreading COVID-19” as well as drivers whose accounts are “restricted by Uber as a result of information provided by a public health authority that you have been diagnosed or have been exposed to someone diagnosed with COVID-19.”
However, Uber drivers are still not satisfied with the new criteria, claiming that it is still nearly impossible to meet.
Uber Driver Zachary Frenette has driven for the company in Phoenix, Arizona, for the past two years. During his time with the company, he has earned “Diamond” status and a 4.96 average rating, completing more than 4,300 trips in the past year alone. Frenette also lives with HIV, which puts him at higher risk of severe symptoms or even death if diagnosed with the Coronavirus, due to his weakened immune system.
Frenette was possibly exposed to the virus on March 18th, when two passengers entered his vehicle, both coughing and sneezing. They revealed that they had just left a relative’s home who had tested positive for the virus. Following this revelation, Frenette immediately stopped accepting rides and consulted with his doctor, who issued him a letter telling him to self-quarantine in an effort to “limit exposure and potential spread” of the virus. Adhering to Uber policy, he then submitted that letter to the company, who then responded by deactivating his driver account immediately in an apparent effort to limit his contact with other passengers. With his primary source of income being Uber, he believed that with a doctor’s note confirming his possible exposure, the company would honor its policy to pay drivers who couldn’t work because of the risk of spreading the Coronavirus. However, that has not happened.
“My livelihood was in immediate risk,” Frenette said.
Uber replied to Frenette with a generic reply that did not explain why he wasn’t eligible. After reaching out to customer service “20 to 30 times,” he finally got a response from the company saying that his documentation needed to cite his “risk of spreading COVID-19 as the reason” for his quarantine. In response, Frenette was able to get his doctor to pen a second note, which specifically mentioned that his March 18th ride meant that he was at risk of spreading the virus. It also reiterated the threat to his health due to his weakened immune system. This has still gotten him nowhere.
Frenette and multiple other Uber drivers with similar situations revealed to Business Insider that Uber has not paid them the sick time promised despite their heightened exposure or risk, which has left them without pay and unable to work. Another valid point that drivers brought up was the fact that deactivating accounts without compensating drivers who follow the agreement risks disincentivizing drivers from self-quarantining in the middle of a pandemic.
The company responded to these concerns, claiming in a statement that it had “been providing payments to eligible drivers and delivery people,” though they failed to elaborate on how many drivers were eligible, or why some drivers’ claims were not answered, except to direct Business Insider to its policy.
The current lockdowns and quarantine have seen rides dropping by as much as 94% in the US, leaving drivers struggling to make a living.
“It seems like this is largely a PR campaign … to make it seem to the public like they’re doing something for their extremely vulnerable drivers,” said Veena Dubal, a professor of employment and labor law at the University of California, Hastings, who focuses specifically on the gig economy.
Uber has said explicitly that “other health conditions” do not qualify someone for compensation, leaving its most vulnerable drivers in limbo and prompting further backlash from drivers with pre-existing conditions such as Nicole Knesek, a driver in Sacramento, who received a kidney transplant last year which requires her to take anti-rejection drugs. These drugs leave her immune system suppressed.
“They just don’t think about anyone but themselves. They changed it to work for them,” she told Business Insider. According to Knesek, her claim was rejected as well.
In a statement to Business Insider, Uber said that “The safety and well-being of drivers on the Uber app is always our priority,” adding that it has “a dedicated team working around the clock to support drivers and delivery people.”