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Uber and Lyft drivers seeking sick pay say they drove while ill during pandemic

Two Massachusetts ride-sharing drivers, in an industry deemed essential by Gov. Charlie Baker, claim they recently drove while sick for Lyft and Uber during the coronavirus crisis because they couldn’t afford to stop working, new federal court filings reveal.

The men made the admissions in signed affidavits in two lawsuits contesting ride-sharing’s independent contractor designations, which prevent drivers from accessing minimum wage, overtime pay and sick pay as employees.

The two drivers claim they drove attendees from the Biogen conference, where over 100 coronavirus infections erupted, as well as airport passengers and college students. The men fell ill, did not get tested for coronavirus and briefly continued working for Uber and Lyft, the affidavits say.

“I often wish that I could avoid picking up riders at the airport, especially during the current coronavirus pandemic, but I am afraid to cancel rides to the airport because I am concerned that I will get deactivated for having a high cancellation rate,” stated Martin El Koussa, a Boston-area Uber and Lyft driver since 2014.

The suits filed last September ramped up this month with emergency injunction requests as the coronavirus pandemic raised sick leave concerns among drivers. Attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan, counsel for plaintiffs in the two class-action suits, emphasized Wednesday employee protections are overdue for ride-sharing drivers providing essential services.

“Uber and Lyft drivers are driving people to hospitals, they’re getting people to pharmacies,” Liss-Riordan said. “Workers are going to do what they need to do to survive. The least they can get are basic employment law protections.”

Lyft in a statement said plaintiffs are improperly using the coronavirus pandemic to obtain “completely unprecedented relief” that courts have denied them in the past.

“It will hurt drivers and at-risk communities at a time when they need our services most,” a spokesman for Lyft said in a statement.

Uber did not respond to a request for comment.

Ride-sharing providers were deemed an essential service in Baker’s order this week calling for the closure of all non-essential services. Takeout, food and package delivery drivers were also exempt from Baker’s order.

Lyft in court filings has argued most drivers don’t want to be classified as employees because they would be bound to work at Lyft’s behest, and has also stood behind its arbitration clauses.

“A public health crisis does not supplant basic principles of civil procedure and the Federal Arbitration Act,” counsel for Lyft wrote in a filing.

Mayor Martin Walsh on Wednesday emphasized sanitation efforts by ride-sharing providers to protect themselves and the public.