Rideshare and delivery driver COVID-19 sick pay: Are the gig-services companies delivering on what they promised?

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For most drivers, the idea of actually being unable to work because they’ve been exposed to COVID-19, or are already sick with it, is something they worry about, but haven’t yet faced. For others, it’s real … very real. 

Since the middle of March, most rideshare and delivery companies have made public announcements about their intentions to provide sick pay for drivers affected by COVID-19. When this all started, companies stated that sick pay would only be awarded to drivers who test positive for the virus, as well as those who have been quarantined by a physician for being exposed to COVID-19.

For obvious reasons, this didn’t always work so well. What if you can’t be tested for the virus, or you’re so sick you’re unable to submit the documentation needed to “qualify” you for sick pay? The companies have made some effort, it appears, to put the focus more on those drivers who are out there still working through the crisis. Still, in many cases, it’s still necessary to get the proof of your COVID-19 situation before you can get their attention.

It sounds simple enough. You either get exposed to the virus, are individually ordered to self-quarantine, or (worst of all) are diagnosed with COVID-19; then the company gives you money. What happens, really? 

We took a look at companies’ policies and got reports from drivers who have been in this situation, and found that things are not going quite the way they’re supposed to.

The plight of the independent contractor

Why is it so hard to get sick pay to begin with? 

When you sign up to drive for rideshare or delivery, you’re told in no uncertain terms where you stand with the company. You are not an employee, you don’t get benefits, there will be no paid holidays, and there’s no such thing as sick time. It’s all part of the agreement with which we’re all familiar; part of being gig workers. 

The importance of sick pay in a pandemic

When you’re first signing on, it doesn’t seem so bad. You drive and you get money for it—but that’s when everything is normal. 

If there ever was a time when everything was far from normal, it’s now, with the COVID-19 crisis. All kinds of situations we could never have expected are upon us. On top of the “Closed” signs on the doors and windows of most every business your passengers once frequented, you risk becoming infected with a serious virus that can be deadly

Even in the delivery game, you won’t have a parade of riders to worry about, but you’ll still be exposed to workers in restaurants and stores, plus the people waiting for you to bring groceries, beverages, and/or dinner to their doors. In all these cases, doing your job forces you to take your life in your hands.

If you know you’ve been exposed to the virus, and you still have to work to put food on the table and a roof over your head, would you stop driving or delivering? That’s the question companies should ask when they consider the questions of providing independent contractors with sick pay of this nature during the pandemic.

If they fail to offer compensation to drivers who have been exposed to the virus, or who are at high risk due to their age or health problems, they could be contributing to the pandemic by forcing these people out into a workplace that’s extremely dangerous to them and the people with whom they come into contact. 

Perhaps out of prudence – or the desire to avoid being held liable for such catastrophe – companies have formulated sick pay policies, even for independent contractors. Let’s see what they bring to the table.

Companies to the rescue … sort of

It makes sense that the companies, who are making even more money than you are by completing your rides and deliveries, would help you out. Just what are they doing, and is it enough?

On the rideshare side, Uber and Lyft have policies that give drivers one-time payments. Here are the programs they offer, in a nutshell:

Uber

Recognizing that their first efforts at providing compensation for drivers affected by COVID-19 were woefully inadequate, Uber updated their financial assistance program in mid-April. It applies both to rideshare drivers and delivery workers for Uber Eats. Their policy was expanded to encompass those who were told to isolate because they have pre-existing conditions that put them in the high-risk category for COVID 19.

This is a sign of somewhat more compassion, and that’s the good news. The not-so-great part is that, at the same time, Uber decided to set a maximum payment per person. This gets tricky, because Uber says there is no one set amount. It will vary by location, and will be based not just on your earnings, but on the average earnings of drivers in your area

How payments are calculated:

Your basic payment will be figured based on the three months prior to the date of your application for assistance. There will be up to 14 days’ compensation, but this amount will start at $50 minimum, even if you did just one ride, and top off based on the average earnings of drivers in your area. Uber gives these examples:

Los Angeles: $459

Coloumbus, OH: $244

Rio Grande Valley, TX: $136

What you must do to apply, and qualify:

  • Have an active case of COVID-19, or
  • Be individually ordered to self-quarantine because you are suspected of having the virus, or
  • Be individually ordered to self-quarantine because you have pre-existing, underlying health conditions that place you in the high risk category.

If you meet these requirements, then you need to:

  • Complete at least one trip or delivery on Uber in the 30 days leading up to the date of your documentation
  • Submit documentation containing your full name, full name of the doctor or public health official, their contact information, and the diagnosis date/start date of quarantine.
  • Submit your documents within 30 days of your date of diagnosis/start of quarantine.

Uber says they will attempt to process requests within 7 business days, but also adds the disclaimer that due to high volume (not to mention the recent layoffs of customer service personnel), it may take longer.

Note: Once you apply for assistance from Uber, your account will be put on hold! In general, the hold will be for 14 days, unless the time period stated in your documentation states it should be otherwise.

This is an audacious change in policy, and it surely doesn’t seem to be for the better. Before April 10th, all drivers were awarded up to 14 days’ compensation, based on the previous six months of earnings. There was no maximum amount set. 

As a result, drivers in California recently took legal action against Uber, and in late April they won a little more out of the company than what it was offering. According to a post from CNet,

 “The company has agreed to pay $360 — calculated as three 8-hour work days at $15 an hour — to all drivers who’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19, had symptoms of the disease or believe they were exposed to the virus. Uber is also offering the financial assistance to drivers with preexisting health conditions that make them susceptible to COVID-19, including being over the age of 60.”

Even at that, Uber doesn’t seem to be fulfilling its responsibility in terms of protecting its drivers – or the rider community with whom they are mutually exposed. Even with the 14-day pay policy, it’s hard to imagine that a person who’s sick enough to be in ICU on a respirator would be ready to go back to work in that short of a time period.

Lyft

It would be so pleasant to be able to say this company does do better, but we can’t lie to you. Yes, they have also expanded their program to support drivers who are at high risk due to age and/or underlying high-risk health conditions. Yet, they are extremely vague about how much they will compensate drivers for this or for any other reason COVID-19 would stop them from driving. The only things they are clear on is that you must present documentation to them, and it will take some time to process your application.

With all of that, Lyft’s website makes it plain they feel they are making a huge contribution to the cause of dealing with COVID-19. They state that in addition to providing safety and sanitizing equipment to drivers and the community with a $6.5 million commitment, they are providing support for affected drivers. These are their specific words: 

“We’re providing funds directly to qualifying drivers diagnosed with COVID-19 or put under individual quarantine by a public health agency — an amount determined by the driver’s previous activity on the Lyft platform.”

This tells us very little about how much Lyft will award drivers individually. Also, they seem to believe their “additional support”, namely alerting drivers to the benefits of the CARES act (unemployment for independent contractors and PPP loans) is a big deal. And oh, right – they will also suspend your account if you indicate you need help because you’ve been exposed to or diagnosed with COVID-19.

 If that’s all they’ve got – a vague compensation policy and a few words about government programs, it’s evident that what Lyft has to offer is in no way commensurate with the risks drivers are taking, either.

Doordash, Instacart, Grubhub and the rest

Many delivery companies also offer help to drivers impacted by COVID-19. Recently, they have expanded coverage to include those who have been exposed and quarantined. In general, here’s what delivery drivers and Instacart workers can expect:

  • Companies that pay by the hour offer 14 days of pay. Companies that pay per delivery base their compensation on 14 days of a driver’s average earnings.
  • Instacart is offering sick-pay to in-store shoppers now, and also offering up to 14 days of pay for full-service shopper or part-time employee who is diagnosed, or placed in mandatory quarantine. 
  • DoorDash and Caviar require that drivers be on the platform for at least 60 days in order to collect benefits.
  • These companies have activity requirements: DoorDash (30 deliveries in last 30 days); Grubhub (one delivery in last 30 days); Caviar (30 deliveries in last 30 days); Wanelo (based on amount of time currently working).
  • All companies require written documentation of COVID-19 diagnosis or medical quarantine order.
  • Some companies inform you how soon payment will be received, while others do not. Grubhub says it will take two pay periods, while Postmates says you’ll get the money on the Friday of the week you’re approved.
  • Some additional information: Postmates requires you to have a Starship HSA account, which is their healthcare savings plan. Instacart says additional sick pay is available, Amazon Flex says “employees with hardships” can receive $400 to $5,000, and Wanelo is extending flextime to all employees. 

Of all these companies, Doordash is the one whose policy stands out at being most comprehensive and specific. While announcements have been made about Instacart and other companies expanding their programs, little detail is immediately available. 

Because they’ve made the the particulars readily available, we’ll give more information about Doordash’s policy here:

The work requirements (30 days and 30 deliveries in a 30 day period) cited above still apply. The same requirements as Uber, namely, testing positive for COVID-19, being under mandatory quarantine or under a doctor-recommended quarantine (all with medical documentation), or at higher risk, or (and this is unique among the companies we could find details on)…you can prove you live with someone who fulfills one of the above-mentioned criteria.

They also help drivers secure medical documentation by offering a discount code for Doctor on Demand, which would provide a virtual visit for $4.00. Financial assistance for childcare is also available, and all this can be accessed through the Doordash support web form

Do companies offer realistic COVID-19 assistance, considering the risks drivers and shoppers take?

The feedback we’re getting tells us companies are getting mixed reviews so far—and that’s putting it politely. Not only are drivers reporting delays and obstacles when they apply for compensation, there are other issues companies don’t seem to have taken into account.

One of these is the issue of underlying health problems, including being over age 60, and being of increased risk. Uber and Lyft have specified they extended their policies to cover this group, as has Doordash, but other companies have not. Will they have to continue working, even though they know they should be at home?

It seems the companies really fumbled the ball over the issue of protecting their independent contractors from harm during this pandemic, and even the “band-aids” they’re applying at this stage fail to make it much better.

In this Business Insider article, an Uber spokeswoman admitted the company’s hastily rolled out policy may not cover enough people. And there are other matters the companies seem to have overlooked as well. Many drivers, for instance, are now taking care of children who are not in school, or perhaps tending to older or disabled relatives who have gotten sick. How are these drivers supposed to continue to work now that their family members are at home and in need of their care?

Even when drivers meet the companies’ requirements of being infected or exposed, some odd things tend to happen. Drivers have reported, for instance, that telling their companies about relatives who are COVID-positive has resulted in an immediate suspension of their accounts, but no compensation (or at least a long wait for it). 

This could lead to drivers who have been exposed to COVID-19 feeling forced to keep it a secret. They may continue working—which means they’re taking scary chances with their riders’ health, as well as their own. Yet they have to make a choice: either keep a paycheck or lose it after having a medical check-up.

COVID-19 war stories: delayed responses

An Uber driver in San Francisco developed COVID-19, which he believes he caught from two passengers he picked up at the airport. Wisely, the driver stopped taking trips, went to get tested, and found he was indeed positive. 

When he uploaded his doctor’s letter, which ordered him to self-quarantine, the driver was taken aback by Uber’s response. The company requested further personal information, along with several requests to accept conditions related to being an independent contractor rather than an employee.

Another driver reported having to wait an inordinate amount of time to hear back from Uber about his request for COVID-19 compensation. In both cases, these drivers got on Twitter and called out Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi in their tweets.

The social media machine did its usual thing and Khosrowshahi’s shaming was pretty effective. Uber responded rapidly to the drivers’ requests … but unless you’re healthy enough and willing to embarrass a major executive on the Twittersphere, you could be waiting a long time for your sick pay compensation.

The companies’ side of the story

To be fair, the companies are scrambling to cope with the coronavirus pandemic as much as the rest of us. They’ve been flooded with driver requests, their own operations are severely hindered by stay-at-home orders, and it is likely that many of their employees have gotten sick or are quarantined.

Let’s remember that the companies have benefited from the government’s recent easing of unemployment regulations. With the recently enacted CARES Act, independent contractors can apply for their state subsidies and collect $600 per week from the federal government. 

If you find yourself in a situation where you’re unable to work because there isn’t enough business, or you have to care for a family member, unemployment compensation might be a good option for you. (Read more about how drivers can get unemployment compensation here.)

Be smart and stay healthy

At Gridwise, we want nothing more than for you to stay healthy and avoid catching this beast of a virus. But we want you to have the peace of mind that if you’re facing a COVID-19 diagnosis, or are threatened by exposure to it, you’ll receive the benefits you deserve.

Rideshare and delivery companies are still absorbing the shock of this situation, as we all are. Even they seem to recognize that they could be doing a better job. Let’s hope they get there before it’s too late.
Keep up to date on this situation and everything you need to know about rideshare and delivery driving when you download the Gridwise app. Still haven’t?  Do it now!

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