Gig economy companies weigh paying workers affected by coronavirus

Some companies are announcing steps to protect gig economy workers vulnerable to the coronavirus.

Gig workers do not have the flexibility to take sick days or work from home.

Gig workers do not have the flexibility to take sick days or work from home. Worawee Meepian/Shutterstock

As the coronavirus continues its spread across New York, concern about workers in the gig economy – who largely aren’t afforded paid time off or sick leave – and their potential vulnerability to the virus grows as well. In response, a handful of gig economy companies are now announcing steps to protect some of those workers.

Uber said on Friday that it would compensate any of its drivers who are diagnosed with coronavirus or quarantined under order of a public health authority, paying for up to 14 days of missed pay. Lyft, too, said on Sunday that it would provide funds to drivers who are infected or quarantined by a public health authority. The Wall Street Journal also reported that Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and Postmates are all in talks to band together to fund potential payments to affected drivers, and are expected to make a decision about how to do so in the coming days.

Most gig economy workers like Uber drivers are classified as independent contractors and not employees, meaning they don’t have protections like paid sick leave or health insurance – although legislation and a task force in Albany could change that status. In New York City, new minimum-pay rules for ride-hail drivers for companies like Uber, Lyft, and Via does afford those workers some paid time off.

But for the most part, if delivery cyclists, on-demand task-doers and other gig economy workers are feeling sick and want to follow public health guidance to stay home during the coronavirus outbreak, they’ll lose out on income. Lawmakers at the federal, state, and local levels have called on gig economy companies to provide financial assistance to keep their workers from having to choose between their health and their paychecks. New York City Councilman Brad Lander sent a letter on Thursday to companies like Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash, calling on executives to do just that. “It is incumbent on you to take steps to protect your workforce, your customers, and the broader public from the spread of the virus – beginning with providing paid sick days to your workers during this public health crisis,” Lander wrote.

Over the weekend, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a state of emergency as the number of confirmed cases in the state rose above 100 – including one person in Queens who drove for Uber.

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