A quarantined Uber driver’s search for paid sick leave

Zachary Frenette has been quarantined with his dog Teddy for about two weeks.

Zachary Frenette likes to work as an Uber driver in Phoenix. He is a first class driver who often chats with his customers on his travels.

Business began to slow down during the Coronavirus outbreak last month. Then a possible exposure to the virus caused 29-year-old Mr. Frenette to quarantine. He was off the road, worried about getting his rent on time, and turned to Uber for help.

He had heard that the hailstorm app was one of several companies that had announced policies to offer paid vacation or other compensation to workers infected with the corona virus or quarantined by their companies, the government, or health care providers .

For several days, Mr. Frenette communicated with the company by phone, email, and the Uber app, but kept getting the same feedback – always polite, probably in scripts, and sometimes incredibly vague – that he didn’t meet the criteria.

“I just thought OK, obviously I’m being dragged around,” he said. “I don’t like having to wake up in the morning and feel like I’m ready to fight big companies.”


He received a payment of $ 1,565 on Thursday after involving the news media.

Mr. Frenette is just one of many gig economy workers who are Healthcare workers are overwhelmed, testing for the virus is difficult to access, and companies are trying to adapt.

“This is an unprecedented time, so it was a challenge for everyone, including us,” said Kayla Whaling, a Uber spokeswoman. “So we took the feedback from drivers and learned from some of the mistakes we made along the way.”

She said the company was one of the first to introduce a paid vacation policy related to the contract worker virus. On March 15, Uber commissioned a team of support staff to prioritize the processing of sick leave payments.

Mr. Frenette, an entrepreneur who relies on Uber as the main source of income, typically works for the company at least 40 hours a week. Passengers regularly compliment him on his friendliness, cleanliness and white Chevrolet.

About two weeks ago, he picked up a man and a woman who said they had just visited someone with the corona virus. He also heard evidence of a possible illness from his two passengers – a cough and a sneeze.

That was enough to worry him. He said he went to see his doctor the next day and received a letter recommending that he isolate himself.

Mr. Frenette has H.I.V., which means his immune system is weakened. The doctor’s letter stated that he was “immunosuppressed” and raised concerns that his job involved close customer interactions.

So since March 20, Mr. Frenette has huddled in isolation with his dog Teddy. He alerted Uber, who blocked his account to keep him off the streets.

Mr. Frenette provided screenshots of his chats in the Uber app, showing days of messages between him and a number of agents.

They repeatedly told him that he needed either a diagnosis of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, or an instruction from an approved healthcare provider to isolate himself, “because of your risk of spreading Covid. 19 to others. “

According to a message, Mr. Frenette has not provided any documents showing that he “has Covid-like symptoms that are currently diagnosed with Covid or are at risk of spreading Covid.”

“Are you kidding me?” he wrote in response.

Days after his quarantine, one of his many calls to the company led him to an agent who seemed ready to help. She told him to try sending a letter through another portal on the website – one that wasn’t dedicated to drivers, but to law enforcement and health officials.

That seemed to be turning a few gears, but the financial support was still not coming.

When Mr. Frenette complained that he had no way of making money and still was getting no help, the company reactivated his account and essentially allowed him to drive.

“Reactivating a person’s account when a doctor has indicated that they may have been exposed to a coronavirus and are in self-quarantine is a careless way of not taking responsibility for the financial support I am supposed to receive,” wrote Frenette to Uber on March 28th. “It doesn’t look that great.”

His account has now been blocked again. Ms. Whaling confirmed that his account had been activated for a short time and added that the bug was “fixed and fixed” quickly.

Mr. Frenette said he started thinking about how other drivers in similar situations could fare under the new policy and what he could do to help.

He contacted news reporters. Business Insider first reported in an article published on Wednesday about Mr. Frenette’s case.

On Thursday, Mr. Frenette received a call from a woman in Uber who told him that he would receive a support payment. Ms. Whaling said that Mr. Frenette’s payment was processed as part of the normal verification process.

“We were made aware of this driver’s situation by the Business Insider reporter, but his allegation has already been investigated and we have taken action,” said Ms. Whaling.

Uber didn’t immediately answer a question about how much it has spent on Coronavirus payment support.

Mr. Frenette’s account is due to become active again on Monday so that he can drive. However, he has heard that the demand for hailstorm apps has decreased significantly since his quarantine.

He is well aware that not all drivers would have the time and energy to pursue help as stubbornly as he did.

“Because I am annoying and trigger a big firestorm, I get my money and all these other people are not,” he said. “Given the amount of total hell I’ve been through, I’m sure everyone else has gone through it too.”