Uber's paid leave policy for drivers with COVID-19 symptoms has been an evolving process. After going through several iterations over the past two months, the ride-hailing company said Thursday it's adding additional financial support for California drivers.
The move comes after Uber was sued by drivers for allegedly failing to provide adequate sick leave during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Uber and the drivers came to a resolution in the lawsuit, which was first reported by Bloomberg and was confirmed to CNET by the drivers' attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan.
The company has agreed to pay $360 -- calculated as three 8-hour work days at $15 an hour -- to all drivers who've been diagnosed with COVID-19, had symptoms of the disease or believe they were exposed to the virus. Uber is also offering the financial assistance to drivers with preexisting health conditions that make them susceptible to COVID-19, including being over the age of 60.
Unlike previous versions of Uber's policy, drivers don't need a doctor's note or documentation to get the pay.
"In these uncertain times, we are taking steps to provide you with the resources that we hope will help you continue to work safely if you choose," Uber wrote in a blog post directed at California drivers. "And to take the time you need to if you're unable to work because of COVID-19 health concerns."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends employers offer workers paid sick leave if they're exposed to or infected with COVID-19. Public health officials say this is crucial in stopping people from continuing to work and exposing others to the virus. Without financial assistance, some drivers say they feel forced to work even if they're sick because they can't afford not to.
Ride-hail drivers are classified as independent contractors and lack the benefits, such as mandated sick leave, that employees get. The crux of the drivers' lawsuit against Uber boils down to worker classification and the fact that ride-hail drivers don't have a safety net, something that's been amplified during the coronavirus pandemic. Liss-Riordan has filed a similar lawsuit against Lyft.
"We are pleased to have obtained some sick pay for California Uber drivers," Liss-Riordan said in an email. "Now we can focus on proceeding to seek a ruling in court that Uber is continuing to misclassify its drivers as independent contractors."
When the coronavirus pandemic hit in early March, Uber was the first gig economy company to offer its workers sick leave if they came down with the virus. But drivers said the pay was difficult to get since it was near impossible to get tested at that time. On March 15, the company expanded its policy to say those workers mandated to quarantine by a doctor could also get the two-week assistance. But CNET spoke to more than a dozen drivers after that who still couldn't get the paid leave.
In mid-April, Uber changed its policy again. This time it added drivers with preexisting conditions to be eligible for sick pay. With this change, Uber also put a "maximum payment" cap on the amount of money each driver could receive. For full-time drivers, that meant payouts were typically less than a quarter of their normal two-week earnings.
The new $360 payout is intended to encompass even more drivers in California because they won't be required to show a doctor's letter. To qualify, drivers must've driven a certain number of hours with Uber over the last year. If drivers still want to apply for the two-week paid leave program, they can do that too, Uber said in its blog post.
Liss-Riordan said she isn't stopping here and that she'll keep working on the paid leave issue with other drivers.
"We are continuing to pursue individual arbitrations for thousands of drivers and will be including claims for additional sick leave they may be entitled to," she said.