Drivers who work for Uber or Lyft are eligible for unemployment assistance if they stopped driving because fewer people were requesting rides, Labor Department officials said Wednesday.
That means drivers for ride-hailing services who file for benefits shouldn’t need to show that they were unable to work due to a doctor’s order or a coronavirus diagnosis, which had seemed like possible requirements under Labor Department guidance to states implementing a wholly new unemployment policy.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act expanded unemployment insurance to cover workers who are not traditional employees for the first time. Lawmakers intended the law to cover Uber and Lyft drivers, but some labor law experts said the department’s guidance seemed too narrow.
Democrats said this week in a letter to Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia that the department should clarify its guidance, particularly so that ride service drivers will qualify “when they are forced to suspend their work because there are too few customers seeking rides.”
A Labor Department official told HuffPost on Wednesday that drivers would qualify if faced with reduced demand.
“There’s a number of criteria that an individual can look at to see if they’re eligible, and one of those is if an individual’s place of employment is closed as a direct result of COVID-19 and if there’s a significant diminution of their work as a result of COVID-19,” said the official, who answered questions on the condition of anonymity.
The Labor Department previously said that if a worker quit or stopped driving as a precaution ― to avoid catching the novel coronavirus that causes the disease known as COVID-19 ― the worker wouldn’t qualify. In some situations, like if a person quit their job, the federal guidance suggests they would need to prove a coronavirus diagnosis from a qualified medical professional in order to be eligible for assistance.
Labor Department officials insisted no doctor’s note would be necessary.
With restaurants closed to stop the spread of the virus, it should be easy for most ride-hailing service drivers to point to a lack of demand rather than their personal health concerns.
Most states are still struggling to update their unemployment insurance systems to accommodate a huge influx of claims and the new set of federal rules. Many Uber drivers have told HuffPost their claims seem to be in limbo.
Scalia said his department’s guidance to states is actually more inclusive of gig workers than Congress had outlined.
“I used the authority provided to me in the legislation to ensure additional eligibility for rideshare workers, like Uber and Lyft drivers,” Scalia told reporters on a Wednesday conference call.
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