Rideshare drivers across the country have been battling for employee classification and the benefits that come with that status. Now, lawsuits against Uber and Lyft are being re-upped with the argument that the coronavirus means judges should act now.
In California, labor attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan filed an emergency complaint against each company. That added to existing cases in Massachusetts on behalf of rideshare drivers. The plaintiffs are asking judges to issue emergency injunctions that would force Uber and Lyft to comply with state employment classification laws. In most cases, this would result in paid sick leave for drivers.
In the wake of the coronavirus, Uber has put in place financial assistance for up to 14 days in the event a driver or delivery person is diagnosed with Covid-19 or is asked to self-isolate. Their announcement came after lawmakers and labor groups encouraged companies to take action to ensure workers’ health and safety. According to Liss-Riordan, the commitments made are not enough: “That half-measure does not provide the protections of state law. State law mandates paid sick leave – and you don’t need to be diagnosed with the coronavirus to be eligible for it.”
It is possible the financial assistance in place by Uber could be hard for drivers to get because testing for the coronavirus is so limited all across the United States. Even if a driver falls ill, they’d likely be ineligible for compensation and time off because of the lack of an official Covid-19 diagnosis.
While Liss-Riordan has been denied emergency injunctions before, she believes the spread of the coronavirus brings about a more compelling need for action. In an interview with The Hill, she said, “Now we have an emergency that lays bare the fact that it is a danger to the public, not only to the drivers themselves, that they are not being afforded the rights of employees.”
While California and Massachusetts have laws to classify most gig economy workers as fulltime employees, Uber and Lyft have avoided classifying their drivers as employees through lawsuits and arbitration clauses. They argue the gig economy laws do not apply to their workers.
To handle the spread of the coronavirus, Uber has posted information regarding the steps the company is taking. In addition to providing financial assistance to eligible drivers, they are working with public health authorities, providing drivers with disinfectants to keep cars clean, and giving users more options for food delivery.