Ada Slivinski: Companies like Uber and Skip the Dishes offer flexibility and supplemental income. But if something goes wrong, the gig economy can be a lonely place.
Sexual conduct of some sort or another is causing problems for all sorts of companies, from McDonalds, to Uber, to small tech startups.
In the first safety report of its kind, Uber confronted the issue of sexual assault, disclosing that in 2018 alone, there were 3,045 reported incidents of sexual assault ranging from unwanted kissing to rape. We can applaud the company for its transparency – but because the company doesn’t treat its drivers as employees, but self-employed contractors they do not cover any medical expenses or lost wages resulting from such an incident.
This means that beyond telling us that’s it’s happening and banning drivers and passengers from being paired together again while the incident is being investigated – victims are left to deal with the repercussions on their own.
Imagine being a driver in a ride-share and one of your passengers sexually assaults you. The trauma of having to get back into that car and pick up anyone else might very well prevent you from going back at all, yet the company doesn’t cover any of the costs associated with you now being out of a job.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said he was open to a “third way,” that supports the new “gig economy.” With more and more people working exclusively in the gig economy, or supplementing their income with gig job like driving for Uber, Lyft or Skip the Dishes, what happens when they get hurt on the job – physically or psychologically – is very much their own problem.
According to Statistics Canada, 1.3 million people in this country are part of the gig economy (self-employed, unincorporated and with no employees). That’s 7 per cent of our workforce, but the true number is likely much higher; it doesn’t count the growing numbers who work as employees elsewhere and then take gig jobs on the side.
Contrast this with McDonalds, which just fired CEO Steve Easterbrook over a consensual relationship with an employee. He violated company policy and though he wasn’t accused of sexual harassment, is leaving with an exit package of almost $42 million. Surely that sum covers lost wages and any counselling or medical expenses he might need after the fact.
Unfortunately, for those who depend on gig jobs for their livelihood, they may not feel they have any choice other than going back to work.
As our economy changes, it’s also time we take another look at workers’ rights and what responsibilities employers have to their gig workers.
Ada Slivinski is the Founder & Principal of Jam PR, a boutique agency focused on helping small businesses get big exposure. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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