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File photo (REUTERS)
File photo (REUTERS)

Coronavirus: U.S. judge says ordering sick pay could backfire on Uber drivers

  • The U.S. federal judge signalled providing sick pay to drivers infected with the coronavirus would put them at the risk of losing benefits under federal law.

A federal judge signaled he’s reluctant to order Uber Technologies Inc. to provide sick pay for California drivers infected with the coronavirus because of the risk they’d lose benefits under federal law.

Instead, U.S. District Judge Edward Chen urged the ride-hailing giant to make it easy for drivers to qualify for the sick pay the company is already offering -- even if they don’t have a doctor’s note.

Uber has compensated 1,400 sickened drivers so far for an average sum of $900, according to a lawyer for the company. The drivers’ lawyer has called the company’s policy a “half measure" that doesn’t even provide what’s called for under state law.

(Also read: Coronavirus impact: Uber and Lyft ride fares feel the sting of shelter in place)

“I’m sure Uber doesn’t want symptomatic drivers out there," Chen said. He asked lawyers on both sides to “transcend whatever legal arguments" to arrive at a policy “in the interest of the public."

Shannon Liss-Riordan, a lawyer who’s been fighting for years to make Uber and Lyft Inc. change their labor model, contends sick drivers are a public health hazard during the Covid-19 pandemic. Because they are treated as contractors and don’t get benefits, many will have no choice but to work while ill, she said in a complaint.

“If someone has a fever and a cough, those are symptoms of coronavirus," Uber’s lawyer, Theane Evangelis, told Chen. “If you have a note from your doctor saying, ‘I believe you should quarantine,’" she said, “then I think that is sufficient" to get compensation from Uber.

(Also read: Uber urges White House to include gig workers in coronavirus stimulus)

Chen pointed to mixed messages in what Uber says it’s doing online, under its frequently asked questions, to help infected drivers, and what its lawyer told him in court.

The judge suggested drivers provide “self-certification" of symptoms to get benefits, and told the lawyers to report their progress to him on Friday after talks overseen by a magistrate judge.

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

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.

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