Law360 (May 29, 2020, 6:34 PM EDT) -- Instead of providing paid sick leave for its drivers during the coronavirus pandemic, Lyft Inc. is forcing employees to either risk their health and the health of their passengers or risk their livelihoods, according to a class action filed Friday in D.C. federal court.
Under D.C.'s 2008 Accrued Safe and Sick Leave Act, Lyft is required to provide paid sick leave to its drivers, which is particularly important now as a measure to reduce the spread of illness during the pandemic, according to the complaint filed by former Lyft driver Cassandra Osvatics.
"Given the current COVID-19 pandemic, which some experts predict could last for years, the need for paid sick leave is vitally important," according to the suit. Without paid sick leave, Osvatics said, Lyft forces its drivers to choose between risking their lives and the lives of their passengers, and risking their ability to pay the bills. The ASSLA was enacted so workers would not have to make that choice, according to the suit.
Osvatics wants to represent a class of drivers who work or worked for Lyft in the District of Columbia for at least 90 days between when Lyft started operating in the district and the date of final judgment in this suit. The suit seeks an injunction barring Lyft from continuing its alleged unlawful behavior, as well as compensation for the value of any paid sick leave denied by Lyft, and damages.
This is far from the only suit Lyft and other driving services are facing over paid sick leave during the coronavirus pandemic.
In March, Massachusetts Uber and Lyft drivers sick with what they feared could be COVID-19 said they had continued to pick up riders because they had no other way to pay their bills. This month, a judge said that those Lyft drivers had a good chance to prove they are being misclassified as independent contractors, but that they had not shown they had been harmed enough to justify an emergency preliminary injunction to secure paid sick leave.
The pandemic has shown that self-employed workers who provide hailed rides, child care and other on-demand services need tax tweaks and federal benefits they are typically excluded from receiving. Members of both congressional tax-writing committees are taking a fresh look at proposals to tighten tax reporting requirements for self-employed workers to ensure they pay taxes owed and receive benefits promised by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act , or CARES Act, enacted in March.
In her suit Friday, Osvatics said Lyft has a history of failing to comply with the ASSLA, despite claiming it has provided paid sick leave to its drivers during the pandemic. Calling it "vague and limited," Osvatics said Lyft's paid sick leave does not comply with the ASSLA because it only covers drivers who have been found to have COVID-19 or have been put under quarantine by a public health agency.
The ASSLA requires employers with 100 or more employees to provide no less than one hour of paid sick leave for every 37 hours worked, according to the suit. And that sick leave may be used for absences related to physical and mental illness, caring for an ill child or other family member or because the employee or employee's family member is the victim of "stalking, domestic violence or sexual abuse," Osvatics asserts.
Lyft drivers come into contact with all kinds of people, including those traveling to and from airports, and are exposed to illness daily, Osvatics said. With the current spread of the coronavirus that might last years, it's even more important that drives have access to paid sick leave, according to the suit.
"Lyft is committed to helping drivers during the pandemic, which is why we're providing funds to those who are diagnosed with COVID-19 and helping drivers access federal relief that includes paid sick leave," the company said in a statement Friday to Law360.
The company's website includes a COVID-19 page dedicated to how riders can protect themselves, what the company is doing for its drivers and health guidance from the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Christopher M. McNerney of Outten & Golden LLP, an attorney for Osvatics, told Law360 that the fund Lyft is offering is difficult for drivers to get and that it does not address the fundamental issue in the case — that paid sick leave is a necessity, even without the added struggle of a global pandemic.
McNerney, who said his client faced many situations as a Lyft driver in which she would have used paid sick leave had she received it, stressed that sick leave protects not just drivers and their customers, but also the families they go home to every day. He said workers should not have to choose between working and protecting their families.
"The pandemic has brought into stark relief the gaps in society's protections for sick workers," McNerney said. "This lawsuit is intended to help fill those gaps, and ensure that Lyft drivers are provided paid sick leave under the D.C. Accrued Safe and Sick Leave Act."
Osvatics is represented by Sally J. Abrahamson, Mikael A. Rojas, Pooja Shethji and Christopher M. McNerney of Outten & Golden LLP.
Counsel information for Lyft was not immediately available.
The suit is Cassandra Osvatics v. Lyft Inc., case number 1:20-cv-01426, in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
--Additional reporting by Brian Dowling, Linda Chiem, Alan K. Ota and Stephen Cooper. Editing by Peter Rozovsky.
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