It took a global pandemic for big tech companies to protect their hourly workers, support staff, and independent contractors with an economic safety net. But what will happen when the virus passes?
Amazon, Apple, Box, DoorDash, Facebook, Google, Instacart, Microsoft, Lyft, Postmates, Slack, Twitter, and Uber have all announced some form of compensation for non-full-time employees for time they have to spend away from work due to potential illness or self-quarantining. These workers are critical to the success of all these companies. But for many of them, any hour they aren’t working is an hour they’re not earning money. The same has not been true for most of the highly paid full-time staff they support.
The specific policies vary, but many companies are offering up to two weeks of sick pay if an employee misses work due to the novel coronavirus. But there’s some nuance to which companies are covering what class of workers. Apple, for example, is offering sick pay to hourly staff that it employs directly, like shuttle drivers and cafeteria workers. Uber, on the other hand, is covering contractors who drive for the company — a type of worker it has consistently argued should not be eligible for the same kind of benefits and rights as employees.
But why now? Here’s what the tech giants are saying:
This additional pay while away from work is to ensure employees have the time they need to return to good health without the worry of lost pay.
We’re committed as a company to making public health our first priority and doing what we can to address the economic and societal impact of COVID-19. We appreciate that what’s affordable for a large employer may not be affordable for a small business, but we believe that large employers who can afford to take this type of step should consider doing so.
With over half of Americans unable to afford a $400 unexpected expense, the Postmates Fleet Relief Fund will enable couriers to take proactive and preventive personal health care steps by covering costs for medical check-ups, regardless of whether the courier has been diagnosed or quarantined.
Our top priority remains the health and safety of our Tweeps, and we also have a responsibility to support our communities, those who are vulnerable, and the healthcare providers who are on the front lines of this pandemic.
We believe this is the right thing to do.
It shouldn’t just be the right thing to do when there’s a pandemic — it should be the right thing to do all the time.
Many of these companies make billions of dollars in revenue every three months. Having to account for two weeks of pay for some of these workers will be an added expense, but it seems unlikely paid sick leave is going to make a significant difference to the bottom line of tech’s biggest corporations. (Covering eight hours of sick pay in Washington, DC, which currently has the highest minimum wage in the country of $14 an hour, would cost $112, which adds up to $1,568 for two weeks of pay, if you were curious.)
It’s telling how quickly all of the companies announced fairly similar employee safety nets. The above listed companies announced these policies within days — and sometimes hours — of each other. There’s an element of good optics at play: nobody wants to be the company that won’t support its workers during a pandemic.
But the immediate crisis will eventually die down. What shouldn’t end is a world where multibillion-dollar companies support all of their employees, whether they’re full-time or not. Contract workers deserve paid sick leave, too.
The tech companies that announced they’d pay these workers should keep giving sick pay to their workers, period. People don’t just need support when there’s a pandemic; they need it all the time.
The companies have proven they can do it in a time of need, so we should expect them to find a way to do it when the stakes aren’t quite so high. Because workers of some of the most valuable companies in the world need — and deserve — to know that they’ll be taken care of when they are sick, no matter what.
Update March 13th, 10:51AM ET: Added Slack to the list of companies offering compensation for non-full-time employees.