How Will the Outbreak of COVID-19 Impact Workers in the Gig Economy?
We spoke to a few experts on how the coronavirus outbreak has impacted gig economy workers. Firstly, we explore the initial impact this situation may have. On the following pages, which you can explore below, we touch on how behind legislation is in this area, how Covid-19 has seen the rise of gig economy workers and how they are denied basic employment law rights.
Denying Basic Employment Rights
Ewan Carr, Employment Specialist at Shakespeare Martineau
The nature of gig work is underpinned by the flexibility of its employment model, where workers can choose when and for whom they want to work. This relationship brings with it no guarantee of pay or commitment, however, when protecting against a pandemic, a ‘no work, no pay’ situation can be hard to swallow.
There are approximately five million gig workers in the UK and some employers rely heavily on flexible employees of this nature to cover for sickness or seasonal peaks in demand.
While there have long been calls for an employment solution, which is flexible in nature yet still affords some of the basic benefits offered to full-time staff, the recent coronavirus pandemic has brought these concerns to the fore.
Regardless of the business structure adopted, having a consistent approach in relation to employment rights is crucial. Failing to comply with regulations will not only result in penalties but could also impact brand reputation hugely.
There are approximately five million gig workers in the UK and some employers rely heavily on flexible employees of this nature to cover for sickness or seasonal peaks in demand. However, to achieve this, some employers may have wrongly categorised this support – either through their contracts, lack of, or from their day-to-day working practices – by wrongly labelling these flexible workers as ‘self-employed’, denying them basic employment rights such as holiday entitlement and sick pay.
With disagreements over the true nature of the working relationship, and the prospect of no pay at all for the coming months, it is possible that more employee status claims could be brought to light. Businesses are often surprised that employment status can change over time, depending on the reality of the working relationship, and discrepancies between contractual terms and actual working practices can open businesses up to liabilities. Companies must be constantly alert to these changes, assess the risks and make an informed decision on what action to take.
To remain flexible in tough trading conditions, many companies are shedding their reliance on gig workers in order to reduce unnecessary outgoings. While gig workers are often essential to the running of some businesses, these individuals are often the first to lose their jobs or have their rights neglected when those businesses are faced with financial difficulty.
While the widespread impact of coronavirus has brought some businesses to a halt, for others, the pandemic has kickstarted innovation.
To identify, assess, and avoid risks associated with the use of flexible workers or self-employed individuals in future, all employers need to check that they are keeping robust and up-to-date records for all individuals and that such records detail information such as work patterns, work expectations, payment terms and substitution.
Putting the status of the individual aside, employers have a duty of care to protect individuals and their fellow workers. This means that all employers should take reasonable steps to assess the risk to their workforce from COVID-19 and take measures to limit these risks as much as possible. Opening up lines of communication is also crucial. For employers, implementing plans to manage COVID-19 risk is one thing, but ensuring that all workers associated with the business – employees or otherwise – understand and implement these protective measures will be critical to limiting damage.
As the UK works to contain the spread of coronavirus, it is clear that many people who depend on gig work for survival simply cannot afford to take time off, even if it means putting themselves or others at risk.
In the interest of protecting the health and not contributing to bringing a large proportion of the country to its knees, employers should think pragmatically about how to deal with their gig workers. Just last week, the GMB struck a deal with Hermes, meaning 15,000 couriers will be paid normally if they have to stay at home due to illness. So far, however, Hermes is the only major courier company that has agreed to help workers who are confined to their homes.
While the widespread impact of coronavirus has brought some businesses to a halt, for others, the pandemic has kickstarted innovation. In a bid to balance the books, some companies are developing new products and expanding service offerings to include home delivery. Other gig economy couriers could be called on to deliver food and other essentials to self-isolating households, not to mention the reliance on services such as UberEats and Deliveroo to curtail cravings for people’s favourite eateries.
As the UK works to contain the spread of coronavirus, it is clear that many people who depend on gig work for survival simply cannot afford to take time off, even if it means putting themselves or others at risk. Examples have been set by the likes of Hermes; however, it remains to be seen what further measures the government may put in place to protect workers, and businesses alike, in these turbulent times.
Image Credits: IStock, beingbonny