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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

While a growing number of white collar companies are asking employees to work from home, gig economy companies seem to be doing little to protect workers in the face of coronavirus — though pressure is mounting for them to do more.

Why it matters: While engineers and business managers at companies like Uber and Lyft can bring their laptops home and access corporate health resources, the independent contractors who ferry passengers, hot meals and groceries, cannot. This highlights painful differences between corporate "haves" and "have-nots."

Driving the news: On Friday, Sen. Mark Warner sent letters to the CEOs of Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, GrubHub, Instacart and Postmates, urging them to set up health funds to compensate drivers who have to cut back their hours — and thus, earnings — out of coronavirus concerns.

  • Late Friday evening, Uber announced it will compensate drivers for up to 14 days if they're diagnosed with COVID-19 or put under quarantine by health authorities. Lyft will do the same for an unspecified duration.
  • Instacart says that some of its "shoppers," who pick groceries, qualify for sick pay.

So far, the companies have mainly distributed guidelines to drivers about keeping cars clean, washing their hands, and staying home if they feel sick.

Between the lines: One obstacle for these on-demand delivery companies is that providing sick leave and compensatory pay could make it harder to deny that their workers are employees — not just independent contractors.

  • Some of these companies are fighting a new California law that makes it harder to classify their workers as contractors.

Meanwhile, Instacart and Postmates are rolling out “no-contact” delivery options in an effort to minimize concerns among customers and drivers.

  • DoorDash is emphasizing that customers can put instructions in the app for drivers to leave orders at their door.

Demand for gig delivery services seems to be growing as the virus spreads. Instacart said Thursday that its sales this past week were 10 times higher than the prior week — and 20 times higher in states like California and Washington, where the largest numbers of cases have been reported.

Yes, but: Only 46% of service workers in 2017 received sick-leave benefits, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in contrast with 93% of workers in management, business and finance, per the Washington Post.

A bright spot: Microsoft — quickly followed by Google, Twitter, Facebook, and Amazon — said Thursday they would pay hourly workers their regular wages — even as they encourage many employees to work from home, reducing the need for on-site staffing.

Editor's note: The story has been corrected to show that Lyft has not specified for how long it will compensate drivers.

Go deeper

Updated 5 hours ago - World

UK government: Kremlin has plan "to install pro-Russian leadership" in Ukraine

British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss. Photo: Gints Ivuskans / AFP via Getty Images

The United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary on Saturday night said the government has "information that indicates the Russian Government is looking to install a pro-Russian leader in Kyiv as it considers whether to invade and occupy Ukraine."

Driving the news: U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne called the intelligence "deeply concerning" in a statement to Axios. The Biden administration has said Russia is actively manufacturing a pretext for invasion and warned that Putin could use joint military exercises in Belarus as cover to invade from the north.

Updated 6 hours ago - Science

This powerful new accelerator looks for keys to the center of atoms

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Nuclear physicists trying to piece together how atoms are built are about to get a powerful new tool.

Why it matters: When the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams begins experiments later this spring, physicists from around the world will use the particle accelerator to better understand the inner workings of atoms that make up all the matter that can be seen in the universe.

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: FDA OKs antiviral drug remdesivir for non-hospitalized COVID patients — Walensky: CDC language "pivoting" on "fully vaccinated" — Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Teens and adults missed 37 million vaccinations during COVID — Team USA 100% vaccinated against COVID ahead of Beijing Olympics — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America — Annual COVID vaccine preferable to boosters, says Pfizer CEO.
  3. Politics: Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates — Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults — Beijing officials urge COVID-19 "emergency mode" before Winter Olympics.
  5. Variant tracker