Some Uber drivers, anxious about the coronavirus outbreak, say they've taking matters into their own hands to avoid exposure to the illness. On web forums and in interviews with Business Insider, drivers said they're avoiding picking up passengers from airports, cutting down their hours, and cleaning their cars more frequently. US health officials have warned companies to operate under the assumption that an outbreak could occur in the United States in the near future. Drivers said they haven't heard any official communication from Uber about best practices for avoiding transmission or how the company planned to act in the case of an outbreak. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
For Uber drivers, letting dozens of travelers into their personal vehicles every day is routine. Coronavirus may be changing that. US experts and government agencies have warned that an outbreak of COVID-19, the coronavirus disease, could be imminent, but Uber drivers say they haven't heard any official guidance from Uber itself. As a result, drivers are taking matters into their own hands as fears of the virus swirl. In interviews with Business Insider, Uber drivers echoed fears that have been circulating in web forums for drivers over the past month. (Drivers are referred to by only their first names to protect their identities, which Business Insider has verified.) "I work in the [San Francisco] Bay Area and stopped doing airport pickups and cut my hours way back," Yoo, a California Uber driver, told Business Insider. "This same car I use for Uber is the same car I drop my daughter off at school in." Other drivers have taken broader measures in the wake of coronavirus reports. Michael, an Uber driver in Washington, DC, said he's been "cracking the window on rides" in an attempt to avoid catching germs. Nate, a driver in Las Vegas, said he has cut back his hours across the board. "My significant other is reluctant to let me work. It's a common topic of discussion in my rides now, often jokingly, but with a hint of underlying nervousness from all parties," he told Business Insider. "I typically Lysol the car ... after I get anyone in the car coughing." Uber said in a statement to Business Insider that the company has formed a dedicated global team to respond to coronavirus outbreaks as needed across the globe, guided by advice from a "public health expert" consultant. "We are always working to help ensure the safety of our employees and everyone who uses Uber, and we continue to be concerned by the ongoing spread of coronavirus," an Uber representative said. "We remain in close contact with local public health organizations and will continue to follow their recommendations." On a subreddit for Uber drivers, people have debated whether to worry about the coronavirus over the course of the past month, bickering over whether the ridesharing industry would be affected by the "disruption" the CDC has warned, or whether the concerns amount to "fearmongering." A lack of top-down communication from Uber isn't helping the confusion. "I'm sure they don't want to cause a stir and make less drivers want to go out which equals their money not being made," Nate told Business Insider. "This is a new type of situation so I think they are remaining complacent but acting as they need." Drivers said Uber hadn't sent them any official guidance addressing COVID-19, but it has acted in at least one case. A coronavirus patient in London took an Uber to the hospital; after the incident was reported, Uber said it temporarily suspended the driver's account out of "an abundance of caution." Got a tip? Contact Aaron Holmes at (706) 347-1880 or at email@example.com. Open DMs on Twitter at @aaronpholmes. You can also contact Business Insider securely via SecureDrop.SEE ALSO: The CDC is warning travelers about visiting 5 countries because of the coronavirus. Here's the US government's guidance for Americans. Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Jeff Bezos reportedly just spent $165 million on a Beverly Hills estate — here are all the ways the world's richest man makes and spends his money
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Uber promised to pay drivers who couldn't work because of the coronavirus. But drivers say Uber has been closing their accounts after they seek sick pay, and then ignoring or rejecting their claims. (UBER)
Uber promised financial assistance to drivers forced off the road by the coronavirus, but even some...Uber promised financial assistance to drivers forced off the road by the coronavirus, but even some who appear to meet its strict eligibility criteria have been unable to get the company to pay them. Multiple drivers, all of whom have underlying health conditions that make them especially vulnerable to the virus, told Business Insider that Uber had rejected or ignored their requests for sick pay after shutting down their accounts, despite doctor's notes. While Uber immediately blocked them from driving, effectively cutting off their income, drivers say the company's response has left them frustrated and out of a paycheck at a time when they need it most. "We remain committed to working with drivers and delivery people around the world to help support them. We will continue to advocate for independent workers," Uber said in a statement to Business Insider. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. Zachary Frenette has driven for Uber in Phoenix, Arizona, for the past two years, earning "Diamond" status and a 4.96 average rating during that time, while completing more than 4,300 trips in the past year alone. He's also HIV positive, meaning he has a weakened immune system that puts him at a higher risk of developing severe symptoms or dying from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. On March 18, two of his passengers, both coughing and sneezing, said they had just left a relative's house who had tested positive for the virus. So, Frenette immediately stopped accepting rides and went to his doctor, who wrote him a letter telling him to self quarantine to "limit exposure and potential spread" of the virus. He then submitted that letter to Uber, which deactivated his driver account in an apparent effort to limit his contact with other passengers. "My livelihood was in immediate risk," Frenette said. Frenette, who relies mainly on Uber for his income, knew that Uber had a program to pay drivers who couldn't work because of risk of spreading the coronavirus. And with a doctor's note highlighting his possible exposure, he assumed the company would honor its policy — after all, they shut off his account as part of it. But Frenette and multiple other Uber drivers told Business Insider that the company hasn't given them the pay promised despite their heightened exposure or risk, leaving them without pay and unable to work. Some also raised concerns that shutting down accounts but not compensating drivers who follow the agreement risks disincentivizing drivers from self-quarantining in the middle of a pandemic. Statewide lockdowns across more than half of the US have forced thousands of drivers like Frenette off the roads, both to protect their own health as well as others' — while those still driving have struggled to make any money, with rides dropping by as much as 94% in the US. Earlier in March, in recognition of the precarious situation drivers have found themselves, Uber announced its intention to support them through a coronavirus financial assistance policy. Effectively a form of sick pay, the program promises to compensate drivers for up to 14 days, with the daily amount varying based on how much they had earned on the platform over the past six months. But the initial policy was criticized for only applying to drivers who had confirmed cases of COVID-19 or were placed in quarantine by public health officials. Given the extremely limited availability of testing, Uber's policy made it nearly impossible for many drivers to prove they had or were at risk of spreading the disease, which can be highly contagious even if a person isn't showing symptoms. After a backlash, Uber expanded the program to include drivers "personally asked by a public health authority or licensed medical provider to self-isolate due to your risk of spreading COVID-19" as well as drivers whose accounts are "restricted by Uber as a result of information provided by a public health authority that you have been diagnosed or have been exposed to someone diagnosed with COVID-19," according to its website. Uber drivers told Business Insider that even the new criteria was nearly impossible to meet. Some, like Frenette, said the company still wouldn't pay up even with a doctor's note detailing their risk of spreading COVID-19. The company said in a statement that it had "been providing payments to eligible drivers and delivery people," but did not elaborate how many drivers were eligible, or why some drivers' claims were not answered, except to direct Business Insider to its policy. "It seems like this is largely a PR campaign ... to make it seem to the public like they're doing something something for their extremely vulnerable drivers" said Veena Dubal, a professor of employment and labor law at the University of California, Hastings who focuses specifically on the gig economy. A high bar Frenette believed he met the new criteria — risk of spreading the disease, account deactivated — yet Uber denied his claim, sending him a generic replies without explaining why he wasn't eligible. After he called customer support "20 to 30 times," Frenette got a response from Uber saying his documentation needed to cite his "risk of spreading COVID-19 as the reason" for his quarantine. So, Frenette got his doctor to write a second note specifically mentioning that his March 18 ride meant he was at risk of spreading coronavirus as well as reiterating the risk to his health due to his weakened immune system, still to no avail. Eli Martin, a driver in Chicago who has cystic fibrosis, a disease that affects the lungs (chronic lung diseases have been shown to put people at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19), told Business Insider that he has had similar difficulties clearing the bar set by Uber, despite submitting a doctor's note instructing him to quarantine and get tested for coronavirus due to reporting a dry cough, sore throat, fatigue, and body aches — the symptoms most commonly seen in patients with the virus. Martin could not get tested because of limited availability of kits. Uber has specifically said that "other health conditions" do not qualify someone for compensation, leaving its most vulnerable drivers in the lurch. That's prompted backlash from people like Nicole Knesek, a Sacramento-based driver who received a kidney transplant last year that requires her to take anti-rejection drugs, leaving her immune system suppressed. "They just don't think about anyone but themselves," said Knesek, who told Business Insider her claim was rejected as well amid confusing and seemingly shifting criteria. "They changed it to work for them," she said. Frenette echoed her critique about Uber's policy not covering those most at risk from the virus. "Preemptively, that should have already been introduced." But Frenette and Martin both submitted doctor's notes that, in addition to mentioning their preexisting health conditions, noted their possible exposure to the virus and potential to spread it as a result. "That's literally exactly what they're asking for, that's the exact wording," Martin said. While these drivers have spent weeks, going back and forth with Uber, sometimes waiting multiple days for a reply, the company managed to deactivate their accounts almost immediately. All three said Uber banned them from driving within a day of submitting doctor's notes, implying it had acknowledged they shouldn't be in contact with passengers — either to protect themselves or others. Under Uber's criteria, those deactivations should have entitled the drivers to financial assistance, but even though they're not able to earn income on the platform, the company still hasn't agreed to pay them under the policy. "The safety and well-being of drivers on the Uber app is always our priority," Uber said in a statement to Business Insider, adding that it has "a dedicated team working around the clock to support drivers and delivery people." 'They just don't take drivers' safety seriously' Regardless of the technicalities of Uber's coronavirus sick pay policy, the drivers expressed frustration more generally that the company isn't doing more to support them at a time when they need help the most — and when Uber has publicly stated its intention to do so. "Every time Uber comes out with something that sounds like it's going to help drivers, in my experience, it typically doesn't or is a colossal failure," Martin said, adding, "they just don't take driver's safety seriously." "Uber should be held strongly accountable for their actions if they're going to publicly portray themselves as generous, magnanimous, and caring, sharing part of this burden... and then turn around and completely dismiss, ignore and lie to the people they're vowing to help," Frenette said. Part of that advocacy has been in the form of lobbying Congress to include benefits for gig workers in its $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill, which it ultimately did in the form of making them eligible for unemployment insurance for the first time. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, in a letter to lawmakers, also pushed for a third categorization of employee — somewhere in between full-time workers who enjoy benefits like healthcare and sick pay and independent contractors who don't — that could keep Uber from having to pay for those benefits. Critics criticized the move, however, accusing Uber of using the coronavirus outbreak as cover to ask taxpayers for a bailout. "It's so cruel, they're essentially taking advantage of a pandemic to try and create laws and regulations that specifically accommodate their illegal business model," Dubal said. Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: 62 new emoji and emoji variations were just finalized, including a bubble tea emoji and a transgender flag. Here's how everyday people submit their own emoji.
'Don't come out to greet me': Some Amazon drivers beg customers to stay inside during deliveries as they are pushed to the front lines of the coronavirus crisis (AMZN)
Some Amazon drivers have said they want customers to stop greeting them face-to-face amid the coronavirus...Some Amazon drivers have said they want customers to stop greeting them face-to-face amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control has said that the novel coronavirus is thought to spread mainly through respiratory droplets and between people in close contact, which is defined as within a distance of six feet. One driver said customers should refrain from opening their doors during deliveries. "If they see us and want to wave, that's fine," she said. "But for their safety and ours, it would be best for them to wait until we leave." Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. Delivery workers' jobs have become more critical than ever as online orders surge amid worries over the coronavirus pandemic. In interviews with Business Insider, four Amazon drivers revealed how they are trying to stay safe on the job, while managing growing demand. Some are wearing gloves and regularly wiping down surfaces in their trucks. One driver said she is spraying cleaning fluid on her gloves after every delivery. Two drivers said they are trying to maintain safe distances from other workers at the warehouses where they pick up their deliveries. Asked if there's anything Amazon customers could be doing to help them, all four requested that customers stop greeting them during deliveries. "I think that it would be great if they didn't open the door," said a North Carolina-based driver for an Amazon delivery service partner, or third-party courier. "If they see us and want to wave, that's fine. But for their safety and ours, it would be best for them to wait until we leave." This driver and others spoke to Business Insider on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. "They don't know what we have because we are traveling so much, and we don't know what they have," she said. The Centers for Disease Control has said that the novel coronavirus is thought to spread mainly through respiratory droplets and between people in close contact, which is defined as within a distance of six feet. The virus can live for up to one day on cardboard and up to three days on plastic, according to a National Institutes of Health study. A driver for Amazon's Flex delivery service said Amazon should send a message out to all customers asking them to avoid greeting delivery workers. "They need to reach out to customers and say, 'Hey, don't meet your driver at the door,'" he said. A Florida-based driver said he's worried about contracting the illness and feels inclined to drop packages on the ground and back away when customers approach him. But he's concerned that behavior could impact his ratings, as Amazon customers can rate and review their deliveries. "From what I've experienced, a lot of the customers aren't taking it that seriously," he said, referring to the number of people who have greeted him during deliveries. Asked what message he would give to customers, he said: "Let me drop it in front of your house. Dont' come out to greet me." Amazon did not respond to a request for comment. SEE ALSO: Walmart will pay a bonus of up to $300 to every hourly employee and hire 150,000 new workers Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Applebee's made the best comeback of 2018. Here's how the restaurant chain turned around.
Uber says it is considering paying drivers who have been quarantined or diagnosed with coronavirus, though...Uber says it is considering paying drivers who have been quarantined or diagnosed with coronavirus, though it doesn't have specific plans as of yet. Their statement comes in response to a concerned senator's letter requesting that the company do more to support its workers: 'I have concerns it does not address some broader challenges that workers could face,' Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) wrote in his letter to Uber leadership. Gig workers for food delivery and ride-hailing apps, whose on-demand jobs don't provide insurance or other benefits, are bracing for the spread of coronavirus. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. Uber is considering paying its drivers who have been quarantined for diagnosed with COVID-19, the coronavirus disease, although it has not yet pinned down how they would be paid. In a statement, the company says that its "global team" tasked with handling its response to the outbreak is "exploring compensation for drivers who have been quarantined or diagnosed with coronavirus, whether independently, through a fund, or in partnership with peer companies." Business Insider has previously spoken with drivers and delivery workers for Uber, who told reporters Aaron Holmes and Mary Meisenzahl that their constant contact with dozens of strangers, and a lack of of health insurance and benefits, had rendered them extremely anxious about how the outbreak of coronavirus would impact them. The statement comes largely in response to a letter from a concerned Virginia Senator Mark Warner, who asked that the company consider taking steps to better protect its gig workers as the coronavirus outbreak spreads across the US. In a letter addressed to Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, Warner wrote that Uber's current steps to support its drivers — who, as contractors, don't enjoy a regular salary or benefits from the company — was lacking in addressing issues beyond hygiene and disease containment. "While this is prudent and good advice, I have concerns it does not address some broader challenges that workers could face," Warner said, and went on to recommend measures to support drivers through any financial hardships that they face during this time. "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 wrote. As of Friday, the coronavirus has spread to at least 93 other countries. More than 360 deaths have been reported outside mainland China, including 14 in the US. Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Jeff Bezos reportedly just spent $165 million on a Beverly Hills estate — here are all the ways the world's richest man makes and spends his money