Ride-hailing and food delivery services are bracing themselves for impact as COVID-19 continues to spread in the U.S., with compensation plans for workers now under discussion.
Many of the companies operating in this spaceincluding Uber, Lyft and DoorDashrely heavily on independent contractors and so-called “gig workers” instead of traditional full-time staffers. Because of that, such firms don’t always offer benefits including health insurance and paid leave.
Could the U.S. Use ‘Big Data’ to Quarantine its Citizens
But the outbreak of novel coronavirus is now challenging that, with companies facing increased political pressure to offer workers sick pay if they need time off to self-isolate or recover from the disease.
Infection numbers are constantly in flux. At the time of writing there have been more than 500 confirmed COVID-19 cases and at least 22 deaths in the U.S, statistics suggest.
Debate about the effects of the virus on gig workers spiked over the past weekend after The Wall Street Journal reported major firms were in talks about how to “band together” and set up a fund to help compensate drivers. A decision was expected to be made in the coming days, the newspaper reported.
Here is how each of the major companies in the delivery and ride-hailing industry have responded to the outbreak, and what steps they are taking to protect those working under their brands.
Despite legal opposition, Uber remains a dominant force in ride-hailing. In an internal memo, it confirmed that it will support drivers and delivery people diagnosed with novel coronavirus or placed in quarantine by a public health authority, as reported by Business Insider.
“Drivers and delivery people in these situations will receive compensation for a period of up to 14 days,” the company memo said. “This has already begun in some markets and we are working to implement mechanisms to do this worldwide. We believe this is the right thing to do.”
It remains unknown how much its workers wouldor couldbe compensated, as does the criteria that must be met to initially access the funds. Previously, Uber had shared recommendations for workers on its website, urging drivers to stay at home if they feel sick and clean their vehicles.
The firm has been contacted for additional comment.
Lyft maintains a page on its website containing the latest coronavirus information, confirming it will “provide funds to drivers should they be diagnosed with COVID-19, or put under individual quarantine by a public health agency.” Financial details are not clear.
It says: “If we are alerted by health officials that an individual tested positive for COVID-19, we will temporarily suspend their account. We will reactivate their account once they receive the proper clearance from health officials. In this event, we will also follow guidance from the CDC and local health officials to identify other individuals who may have been impacted.”
Food delivery service DoorDash says it is “working to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to protect the health and safety of our community” in response to COVID-19.
In a statement to Newsweek, a spokesperson said such planning has included “exploring options with our peer companies to compensate Dashers affected by the novel coronavirus.”
The statement continued: “To reduce the risk of transmission, we are reminding our community in affected areas of the delivery instruction feature, enabling requests for food to be left at the door along with a photo of where the food should be left through the app.
“And we are preparing to distribute much-needed supplies to Dashers in affected areas. We will continue to closely monitor and take action in response to this developing situation.”
The rival food delivery service Postmates has launched “non-contact delivery” in an attempt to limit person-to-person contact while sending out orders to customers.
A blog read: “Customers can choose to meet their Postmate at the door, as they have before, meet curbside, or go non-contact and have deliveries left at the door. To use this new feature, order as normal and then you’ll be prompted to select your delivery preference before checking out.”
After criticism that delivering puts couriers at risk, the firm told TechCrunch it would “continue to encourage employees, merchants and consumers to follow preventative measures.”
A spokesperson told Newsweek: “We will continue to encourage employees, merchants, consumers, and all parts of our community to follow safety protocols such as washing hands and staying in if you are sick. While we are operating with business as usual, we will continue to share information with our Postmates fleet as CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidance evolves.”
In a similar move, Instacart announced March 6 that it would now offer a service called “Leave at My Door Delivery” and noted it had seen a “significant surge” in customers using the option.
Instacart is believed to be having conversations with other companies in the space and evolving its internal policies in the wake of novel coronavirus in the U.S.
“Based on the increased demand for this new product feature, we’ve now made it available to all Instacart customers,” it said in a blog post, not directly referencing COVID-19.
“Customers can now opt-in to ‘Leave at My Door Delivery’ as part of delivery options at checkout, and can also provide more specific delivery instructions like a gate code or apartment number. A real-time photo will alert customers when their groceries are at their doorstep.”
As details of compensation are being worked out, the companies were each sent letters this week by U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner, who demanded they offer “flexibility” during the outbreak. “A health emergency for which they bear no responsibility should not place an undue financial burden on workers and their families,” the Democrat wrote in the message to Uber’s CEO.
In a separate statement, he said: “I write to urge you to publicly commit to prioritizing your workers’ economic security and the broader public health during this response.
“I strongly urge that you attempt to address the potential financial hardship for your workers if they are sick or have to self-quarantine during this time,” Warner continued. “In order to limit spread of COVID-19, it is critical that platform companies lead by example by committing that economic uncertainty will not be deterrents to their workers following public health guidance during the response.”