Why Does It Take a Coronavirus Pandemic for Uber to Finally Offer Drivers Sick Leave?

Uber will offer its “contractor” drivers up to 14 days of paid sick leave due to the coronavirus outbreak. MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images

Uber, the company known for treating drivers as “independent contractors” instead of employees, has changed its policy—thanks to the coronavirus.

On Wednesday, the ride-share giant announced that it will offer drivers 14 days of sick leave if they fall ill with Covid-19 or need to be placed in quarantine. We believe this is the right thing to do,” Andrew MacDonald, Uber’s senior vice president of rides and platform, said in a statement. 

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Monday’s announcement was a 180-degree change for Uber, considering its longstanding policy of paying drivers contractor wages without any benefits such as health insurance (despite the fact that many drivers work full-time schedules). In fact, as of last week, Uber’s “Scrooge McDuck” stance was simply warning drivers that they should take precautions, such as washing hands frequently and disinfecting vehicles, during the coronavirus outbreak. Paid sick leave was apparently not on the table. 

Uber has yet to provide any details about how much compensation a driver would receive if they had to take sick leave due to the coronavirus, since drivers‘ pay can fluctuate greatly depending on how many orders they take.  

But as panic peaks and more people self-quarantine at home, demand for rides and food delivery will likely rise. But that doesn’t necessarily mean drivers will see a bigger payday. In Kansas City, for example, some Uber drivers have already stopped driving due to the coronavirus outbreak, despite the Big 12 Men’s Basketball Tournament being in town. And there have been instances of ride-share drivers contracting Covid-19 from their passengers.  

“A fund to cover those who have been quarantined does nothing for the thousands of drivers who may show symptoms but chose not to stay home for fear of missing a paycheck and falling behind on rent,” said an official from Gig Workers Rising, an activist group advocating for worker protection and benefits. “Workers do not need health care and paid time off only during a pandemic. They deserve these rights at all times in order to ensure that their health is not dependent on a company’s whim.”

In September, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 5, a piece of legislation that would reclassify many gig economy workers as full-time employees, entitling them to such benefits as minimum wage, unemployment and disability insurance, and the right to form a union. 

California has the right idea. And Uber needs to do much more for drivers during non-emergency scenarios. 

Why Does It Take a Coronavirus Pandemic for Uber to Finally Offer Drivers Sick Leave?