Apr 13, 2020 - Economy & Business

Uber updates its coronavirus compensation policy for drivers

An illustration of a woman holding a giant bottle of "benefits" in the style of a 50s ad

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to keep much of America at home, Uber adjusted its paid sick leave policy on Friday to expand qualifying criteria while instituting caps on the amounts it pays out.

Why it matters: Gig economy workers continue to have limited work protections and benefits even as they are putting themselves at risk to ferry food, groceries, and passengers.

The details: Uber’s new policy now extends the two-week paid leave benefits to drivers with pre-existing conditions that heightened their risk of serious illness from COVID-19 (per the CDC).

  • However, it’s also now capping the maximum amount drivers can receive, even if their past average earnings would have netted them more pay under the previous policy, which was slated to expire on Thursday.
  • For example, these new caps are $459 in Los Angeles, $244 in Columbus, and $136 in Rio Grande Valley, Texas.
  • Uber will also re-evaluate applications that were rejected under the old policy.
  • The company says that as of Friday, it has paid out $4 million to U.S. drivers under its COVID-19 policies.

The big picture: Each gig economy company has devised its own approach to providing some compensation to workers during the pandemic shutdown.

  • Lyft recently updated its policy, and will pay drivers between $250 and $1,000, depending on how much they earned from the service over the prior four weeks.
  • DoorDash also provides compensation for drivers if they are diagnosed with COVID-19, asked to quarantine by a doctor or health authorities, have a pre-existing condition that puts them at higher risk, or live with someone who meets any of these criteria.
  • Instacart, the grocery delivery service, offers compensation to its shoppers — but only if they are diagnosed with COVID-19 or are contacted by health authorities because of a known exposure to someone who is diagnosed.
  • Postmates provides two types of compensation, one in the form of health savings credits to cover potential testing or other medical expenses, and one for drivers who are diagnosed or asked to quarantine by a doctor. The company declined to share how much it compensates in either case.

Between the lines: As the shutdown moves deeper into a second month, the companies are realizing they need to make this compensation sustainable in the longer run.

  • “Because this will mean more people are eligible than under the old policy, we’ve chosen to establish a maximum per-person payment to make this new policy more sustainable,” writes Uber.
  • The companies are also focusing their efforts on compensating workers who are still actively working for them today, leaving workers who have voluntarily decided to stay home weeks ago hanging. This group's only option now is to apply for relief through the federal stimulus package passed last month, though that’s expected to take weeks as state and federal labor departments scramble to implement the new measures.
  • Some gig workers have also faced challenges with the laborious process of local authorities tracing COVID-19 patients’ contacts, which can leave workers locked out of work while they wait to find out whether they've been exposed to the virus.

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