The Strain of the Coronavirus on Gig Workers


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There has been a massive rise in gig workers in the past decade. These workers, such as Uber employees, are independent contractors. As independent contractors, Uber drivers and other gig workers face different tax and legal implications than traditional employees. 

There have been legal issues related to gig employees in recent years. For example, companies employing independent contractors have faced increased scrutiny regarding labor laws. There are also issues where Uber drivers and other rideshare drivers get into accidents, but since they’re independent contractors and not company employees, claims may be denied. 

Now, there’s another situation arising with gig employees. In the midst of the coronavirus or Covid-19 outbreak, many of the protections being offered for employees during this time won’t be available to gig workers. 

Around 36% of the American population participates in the gig economy in one way or another. While there is flexibility in this type of work, there is no safety net. 

Dropping Demand

For certain gig workers, and especially rideshare drivers, in recent weeks, the demand has dropped, especially in big cities. Many people are working from home, and a lot of big events are being canceled. 

This leaves gig workers without a source of income for the foreseeable future. 

For the drivers who are still getting rides, there are concerns about illnesses being spread. Many drivers and similar gig workers are having to pay for their own cleaning supplies to make sure their vehicles are sanitized after each passenger gets out. 

While companies like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Amazon, and Instacart are offering financial help, it’s currently only available to workers who have been diagnosed with coronavirus or are in mandatory quarantine as required by public health officials. 

The number of employees receiving help under these conditions is very low. 

New Legislation Won’t Apply to Gig Workers

Federal officials are passing legislation to help American workers and businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic. For example, the House recently passed legislation that would require two weeks of paid leave for affected workers. 

While this is good news for many workers in America, there are large chunks of people left out.

Only traditional hourly and salaried employees are covered, so under this legislation, there wouldn’t be protections for independent contractors. 

There is hope that the Senate could fix this when they work on the bill, but there’s no indication they will at this point. 

There is concern that these workers who are transporting millions of passengers and delivering meals and packages throughout the country are going to impair the country’s ability to flatten the curve of infections because they can’t afford to miss work and stay home. 

What Companies Are Doing

While it’s unclear what moves the federal government will make, if any, to offer some level of protection for gig employees, some of the companies who rely on these workers may step up. For example, Instacart, which is a company that has contractors shop for groceries and household items and then deliver them to customers, is introducing sick pay for workers.

Postmates, a food delivery app, says they will cover medical expenses for workers in 22 states, even if they aren’t diagnosed with coronavirus or quarantined. 

There has been discussion among Uber, DoorDash and other companies about putting money into a fund for the gig workers who drive or deliver for more than one service. 

DoorDash also said they were working to introduce a financial assistance program for people who are under quarantine or diagnosed with Coronavirus. 

Some contractors fear that all these companies are doing is trying to entice them to keep working, and for some of the companies, it’s a time when they see more demand than ever. For example, Uber’s demand may be declining but food and grocery delivery companies are seeing a surge. 

Labor advocates feel these companies are taking advantage of the gig economy because it lets them avoid the responsibilities that come with being an employer. 

Some hope that while it’s difficult now, what will ultimately come out of the coronavirus outbreak are better protections for independent contractors and the development of a more robust safety net for them in situations like these. 

Some workers say the silver lining in the whole situation is that our country hasn’t really thought about independent contractors and people who can’t afford to take time off work, so maybe it will become more of a national conversation. The idea is that if independent contractors are safer and healthier, it will also mean safer and healthier customers. 


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