The state Employment Security Department (ESD) wants companies like Uber and Lyft, which rely on gig workers, to provide data on wages and hours worked to more quickly provide workers with unemployment assistance.
In a letter this week to companies that classify workers as independent contractors, the state asked app-based ride-hailing and delivery businesses to provide 15 months of income information for each gig worker who is requesting benefits.
But it’s not clear whether companies will comply with the request for data, and state officials say not getting it could further delay unemployment benefits to a broad category of workers hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis.
For years, companies that use gig workers have resisted requests for data about their operations. Spokespeople for Uber and Lyft confirmed they had been contacted by the state, but neither company would say whether it will provide information about workers’ wages and hours worked.
Since the novel coronavirus outbreak spread to Washington state, ride-hailing drivers have reported huge losses of income as ridership plummeted. They’ve found themselves caught between shifting policies from the companies and a complicated state unemployment system not designed for this growing category of workers.
In March, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which provides federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for workers who are not eligible for unemployment benefits under state law. ESD spokesperson Nick Demerice declined to say how many workers might be eligible under the new rules.
However, most gig workers don’t have an easy way to provide the state with the wage and other information needed to process an unemployment claim.
Traditional employers regularly provide workers’ income information to the state, so those who apply for unemployment benefits will automatically qualify for their income-based assistance.
But because Uber and Lyft classify drivers as independent contractors, the burden to provide proof of income falls on the individual drivers.
Uber and Lyft driver Bob Gulbranson said he had to sort through 52 weeks’ worth of pay stubs to apply for assistance.
In Monday’s letter, the state gave three options for these app-based ride-hailing and delivery businesses to provide income information over the last 15 months for each individual requesting benefits.
The most efficient option, the state said, would be for each company to file amended tax reports for the previous five quarters and include the names, Social Security numbers, gross payment for services and hours worked for every person who worked for it in Washington state since October 2018.
If companies are unwilling to do so, they could instead submit an Excel spreadsheet with the same information or provide quarterly payroll summaries showing pay stubs for each pay period and the federal forms that are used to show payment to independent contractors. Those options would take longer and could delay workers from receiving benefits, the state said.
“Basically what we’re saying in this letter is it will be a much faster and easier experience, for both those claimants and for us, if these companies can just provide us this information, which we know they have,” Demerice said.