In California, U.S. District Judge Edward Chen of San Francisco told Uber to reach an agreement with drivers regarding short-term benefits during the COVID-19 outbreak. Uber’s lawyers and the opposing party’s lawyers are required to update the judge of their agreement progress on Friday, April 3.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the judge’s orders were issued instead of making a determination as to whether to reclassify thousands of Uber drivers in California as employees. That decision would have qualified them for state sick-leave pay during the pandemic.
Currently, Uber and Lyft, which faces a similar hearing on April 2, classify their drivers as independent contractors. This means that they are ineligible for benefits like minimum wage, overtimes, and state-mandated leave.
During the two-hour hearing, which was held by telephone, Chen stated the health of drivers and their customers would be served by “access of drivers to benefits for an interim period during the pandemic crisis.” He is also asking opposing lawyers to work on an agreement that “serves the public interest in public health.”
According to Uber’s lawyer Theane Evangelis, she believes drivers would be better off seeking benefits from the federal government. In response to the coronavirus, she said Uber has paid benefits averaging $900 to approximately 1,400 ill drivers nationwide.
Shannon Liss-Riordan, the legal representative for Uber’s drivers, countered drivers may be ineligible for federal benefits and would need a doctor’s note to get anything from Uber. In addition to that, she said, “A lot of Uber drivers don’t even have health care. They don’t have a doctor’s office.”
With the California Supreme Court ruling on the recent state law AB5, workers have to be classified as employees if they are in the same business as the company that pays them. To get around this, Uber has said they are a technology business, not a transportation business. Uber is currently funding a November ballot initiative that would exempt them from AB5.
At the hearing on Wednesday, Chen said Uber drivers could have a strong case to be considered employees under AB5, assuming they can clear additional hurdles to win an injunction requiring immediate sick-leave pay. The next hearing for this case is scheduled for April 22.
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