The ‘contractor or employee’ argument is an issue
A hot potato: With Covid-19 showing no signs of abating in the US, most companies are providing their employees with personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks. Ride-hailing giant Lyft, however, is selling PPE to its drivers through an online store, and that’s not gone down well.
The Lyft Store contains the usual PPE products: masks, hand sanitizers, etc. The company says it doesn’t mark up the items, meaning drivers are getting them at wholesale prices. A bottle of sanitizing aerosol, for example, is $5.99, while the same product is $7.99 in CVS and $8.99 in Target.
Drivers, of course, don’t expect to have to pay Lyft for PPE equipment and say the company should be providing it for free, especially at a time when the number of people using ride-hailing services has declined. Lyft requires drivers to wear face coverings and frequently sanitize hand and car surfaces.
Lyft says it has spent $2.5 million on purchasing hundreds of thousands of PPE items for drivers. “To date, we have distributed over 150,000 sanitizing products and masks to drivers at no cost to them,” said a Lyft spokesperson. “Our most active drivers will now receive a free safety kit, consisting of a reusable cloth face covering, sanitizer, and disinfectant.”
Some drivers say the number of PPE items Lyft distributed was woefully low, and after the company closed many of its service center hubs at the end of March, they’ve struggled to get hold of free PPE—even the remaining hubs often run out of items.
Gig economy companies have long argued that they’re not employers, and some refuse to train workers or hand out PPE in case such actions are used to argue that they really are employers in potential lawsuits. Things could change in California, though, where a lawsuit seeks to classify gig workers as legal employees and not independent contractors.
Image credit: Alina Koval