Uber Budges, a Bit, on Virus Sick Pay for California Drivers
A designated waiting area for Uber Technologies Inc. ride-sharing is seen empty at San Diego International Airport (SAN) in San Diego, California, U.S. (Photographer: Bing Guan/Bloomberg)  

Uber Budges, a Bit, on Virus Sick Pay for California Drivers

(Bloomberg) -- Uber Technologies Inc. pledged to make it easier for California drivers to get sick pay if they fall ill from the coronavirus.

Uber told drivers in its home state that it will pay three days, or 24 hours, of sick leave at $15 per hour for those who self-certify they have been diagnosed with Covid-19, or have experienced symptoms of the coronavirus. They don’t need a doctor’s note or any documentation to get the pay.

The ride-hailing giant had been prodded by a federal judge to loosen its restrictions on sick leave after a driver sued to force the company to change its policy. U.S. District Judge Edward Chen said April 1 he was reluctant to grant such an order because it might undercut the funding drivers would receive from a federal emergency law. Instead, Chen pressed the company to negotiate a compromise.

The change in the sick-pay policy was confirmed by Shannon Liss-Riordan, the lawyer representing the drivers who sued. In related suits brought by Liss-Riordan, Uber continues to push back against a new California law that makes it harder for companies to claim their workers are independent contractors rather than employees entitled to full workplace rights.

“What Uber gets out of this settlement is that it presumably will not reclassify its drivers as employees, which would put Uber on the hook for various other financial, record keeping, and liability-related obligations,” said Charlotte Garden, a professor at Seattle University School of Law. “So the fight over classification goes on.”

Liss-Riordan described the sick pay as a first step in her years-long battle. “Now we can focus on proceeding to seek a ruling in court that Uber is continuing to misclassify its drivers as independent contractors, and deprive them of other labor code protections, in obvious violation of California law,” she said in an email.

The lawyer added that she’s waiting to see if the adjusted sick pay policy works in California before trying to implement it in Massachusetts, where she’s filed a similar suit.

Uber spokesman Matt Kallman declined to comment.

Under Uber’s policy, sick pay will also be available to drivers who believe they’ve been exposed to the virus or live with someone who has, or they suffer from an underlying condition that makes them more susceptible -- including being at least 60 years old.

Drivers won’t be allowed to drive for the three days for which they receive the sick pay, but they can be put back on Uber’s app and drive again by certifying that they no longer have coronavirus symptoms. Drivers must also have driven for Uber for a certain number of hours over a period of time to qualify.

Uber in April withdrew its financial guidance for 2020 and said it will write down about $2 billion in investments due to rideshares falling by as much as 70% in cities hardest-hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Lyft Inc., which is also a target of similar suits by drivers seeking sick pay, also withdrew its profit and revenue forecasts for 2020, citing evolving and unpredictable impacts from Covid-19.

The case is Verhines v. Uber Technologies Inc., 20-cv-01886, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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