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HomeEconomicA Sick (Pay) Coverage that Redefines Work

A Sick (Pay) Coverage that Redefines Work

Ought to drivers for app-based supply companies reminiscent of DoorDash and UberEats obtain sick pay? Will such a coverage increase costs and reduce demand? And, maybe much less clearly however extra importantly, does mandating sick pay for such people change the best way we outline work and financial alternate? 

Due to the Seattle Metropolis Council, we might quickly have solutions to those questions. 

In March 2023, the Council handed an ordinance guaranteeing sick pay and “paid protected time” to drivers who work for “on-demand community firms.” Whereas Washington State already mandated sick pay for Uber and Lyft drivers, Seattle prolonged this provision to these of us who ship groceries and take-out meals. The brand new rule requires a “community firm” to supply their app-based supply drivers in the future of sick/protected time pay for each 30 days labored.

The extension of this coverage appears apparent if one finds sick pay for Uber drivers acceptable. In spite of everything, what’s the distinction between shuttling Ms. Hedda Lettis to the airport or delivering a head of lettuce to your property? Nothing actually, apart from the precise factor transported. 

However is guaranteeing sick pay to “gig staff” (as they’re generally known as) an excellent coverage that may profit supply drivers and their clients? 

At one stage, this coverage is a pleasant factor to do as individuals get sick and it could be great for them to obtain some earnings when they don’t seem to be working. This was the ostensible purpose the town council drafted the ordinance, noting that the shortage of sick pay for DoorDash drivers has a big affect on immigrants and folks of colour. Political economists, nevertheless, know that well-intentioned insurance policies typically have dangerous unintended penalties, not just for the themes the coverage hopes to assist, however for shoppers and the broader financial system as effectively. One of many greatest, and most uncared for, penalties of this coverage is that it additional permits authorities to coercively decide the phrases of voluntary alternate thus undermining free enterprise in the long term.

Understanding these points requires us to look at the character of “gig” work and the way numerous types of labor are compensated. As soon as we do that, the harmful implications of politicians redefining the character of financial alternate will turn out to be clear.

The New Nature of Gig Work

In Tomorrow 3.0, Michael Munger argues that we’re on the precipice of a brand new financial revolution, one which considerably reduces transaction prices and guarantees a world of better prosperity. Typically known as “the sharing financial system,” this revolution is the results of pc and web expertise permitting individuals to seek out worthwhile makes use of for unused assets.

The logic is simple. Varied web “platforms” (e.g., Sparetoolz) permit individuals who have assets to make connections with individuals who want assets by decreasing the search prices. If I’ve a tree trimmer that I’m not utilizing, I can put up that data on Sparetoolz and anyone within the native space who must trim some bushes can discover me simply. These apps make transactions extra seemingly as a result of they supply third-party fee choices and score methods that permit every celebration to know that the transaction might be accomplished as agreed upon. In different phrases, platform-based community firms additionally promote belief. 

UberEats does the identical factor as software sharing companies, however the assets being provided up not solely embody the supply car but additionally the labor of the motive force. Mainly, these firms present a method for individuals to carry out duties for each other on a short-term foundation. 

What’s sensible about this enterprise mannequin is that these community firms don’t personal the assets they’re transferring between people, nor do they make use of staff to carry out duties immediately (apart from they staff who assist hold their software program operating and market the service). Uber doesn’t personal a fleet of vehicles, nor do they maintain full-time drivers like a cab firm does. That is vital, as a result of DoorDash drivers usually are not your typical wage-earning hourly staff. However the Seattle Metropolis Council transforms them into simply that, and that has vital penalties for drivers and shoppers.

To know these penalties, we have to take into account how staff are paid.

How Are Employees Compensated?

Have you ever ever puzzled why some staff obtain wages whereas others are salaried? A lot of my college students assume that it’s associated to the status of the job with white collar professionals being paid salaries whereas blue collar staff earn hourly wages. 

However wages and salaries aren’t the one method that individuals performing labor will be paid. There may be additionally the likelihood {that a} employee may very well be paid by the piece. For example, for each chair a manufacturing facility employee makes, he may obtain $25. If that appears odd, take into account that hiring a gardener to mow your garden as soon as every week is mainly an employer-employee relationship whereby you’re paying the gardener by the piece (i.e., one freshly mowed garden). 

Now you could object and say that actually isn’t an employer-employee relationship since you (the house owner) don’t have a payroll division, contribute to Social Safety (FICA) taxes, present medical health insurance, or negotiate paid time-off for illness. These are all of the issues that outline a actual employer-employee relationship. 

Says who?

Says the federal government!

However what the federal government says doesn’t change the inherent nature of the alternate. This can be a level I made in an earlier AIER article the place I requested “when does a job turn out to be a job?” The purpose is that any employer-employee relationship is merely an alternate, similar to some other alternate (reminiscent of shopping for soup at a restaurant). Typically the alternate could be very easy and intermittent, as once I make use of a gardener to chop my grass as soon as every week. Sure, that makes me an employer. Typically the alternate is extra sophisticated in that I need a person to point out up at a constructing 5 days every week for eight hours at a time and weld metal plates collectively.

So how does this relate to compensation?

Whether or not one is paid by the duty (piece-rate), an hourly wage, or a wage is determined by the character of the duty at hand, the frequency of the duty being carried out, the incentives confronted by the staff, and the transaction prices in monitoring whether or not the worker accomplishes the wanted activity correctly. 

I don’t pay a gardener an hourly wage and put him on a daily payroll as a result of I solely want that activity carried out intermittently, maybe one hour per week for 5 months in spring and summer time. Having to retain him forty hours per week, pay insurance coverage, provide sick pay, and the like would make hiring this particular person so price prohibitive that I might find yourself doing the mowing myself. This isn’t helpful to me or to the gardener. Impartial writers function on the identical foundation, as do contractors who may signal a two-month contract to design web sites for a enterprise. The success of the contract will be monitored pretty simply; both the garden is mowed or it isn’t. The motivation of the unbiased contractor is to do an excellent job but additionally in a well timed method so he can transfer on to the following paying activity. Paying an hourly wage to such a employee would solely incentivize him to decelerate. Piece-rate (or contract service) pay is sensible right here.

Hourly staff are paid a wage as a result of they’re wanted for a extra constant time frame, maybe six hours an evening to scrub dishes and mop flooring. In lots of of those situations, paying per activity accomplished wouldn’t make a lot sense for the reason that nature of the duties may range. Typically there are a variety of dishes to scrub, different occasions none. Within the latter case, the hourly wage earner could be shifted to a different activity (e.g., reorganizing the walk-in freezer). Furthermore, sure jobs are extra amenable to be monitored by time reasonably than completion, significantly these which can be routinized (e.g., meeting line work) or that require “being there” to carry out duties in accordance to what’s wanted at any second. In these instances, it’s a lot simpler to observe the employee’s efficiency based mostly upon time on the job.

Salaried work often includes labor that’s troublesome to evaluate the direct high quality of, reminiscent of college educating. The duties might also contain problem-solving abilities and different artistic work that has no specified timeframe and includes the enter of many different people such that it’s troublesome to disassociate the hassle of 1 worker from one other. The power to observe efficiency is reasonably troublesome and the employer doesn’t need to incentivize the employee rush and make errors (as per piece-rate compensation) or gradual stroll their work (as could be the incentives below an hourly wage). In fact, the employer nonetheless should develop methods to find out the standard of the work, however that depends upon creating incentive constructions separate from pay.

The Redefinition of Work

So how does this relate to our DoorDash drivers in Seattle? 

For all intents and functions, app-based supply drivers are contract or piece-work staff similar to my gardener, albeit with much less common clients. They carry out companies for various individuals in keeping with when a activity is requested. That is the character of the platform-based sharing financial system – unused assets (together with labor) are linked with individuals who need to use these assets on a short-term foundation. Such work is nice for people who need to decide up some additional money at times by working the times and hours that they select. The worker-employer contract doesn’t specify precise occasions that they should work like your typical 9-to-5 clock puncher. A possibility to run a supply is obtainable up on the app, a driver can select to take it or defer to anyone else. That is clearly “piece-rate” work. If the motive force is feeling sick on a selected day, he can select to not ship.

However requiring obligatory sick pay, as Seattle Metropolis Council’s new ordinance does, transforms these jobs into one thing resembling hourly pay. The ordinance states, “App-based staff shall accrue at the least in the future of paid sick and paid protected time for each 30 days laboredin entire or partially in Seattle.” On condition that drivers might solely be doing just a few runs per day, including as much as maybe an hour or two of labor, the calculation of owed sick pay turns into considerably convoluted. As per p. 28, the community firms might want to file every day the motive force labored (even, apparently, if it was just one fast supply) after which calculate the common each day compensation over the programs of a month. This turns into the premise for the sick pay.

Take into consideration the incentives right here and the way it modifications the best way drivers work.

Previous to this legislation, if a person merely needed to earn a couple of bucks for weekend enjoyable, he may select to do only a few deliveries, presumably choosing up $40 or $50. That is akin to a neighborhood child mowing a garden or two to purchase comedian books. However with this ordinance, drivers who accrue extra deliveries per thirty days and earn extra compensation will get extra in sick pay. In essence, this coverage pushes what’s a part-time aspect hustle right into a full-time (40 hour per week) job. 

One potential end result right here is that extra people might be shifting in direction of full-time employment and crowding out people who merely need to use just a few spare hours to get a bit more money. To the extent that these app-based firms are about matching unused assets, irrespective of how small, to those that need to make use of these assets, this coverage undermines probably the most helpful facet of the sharing financial system. Furthermore, incentivizing individuals to turn out to be full-time supply drivers could be extra amendable to unionization and make calls for for advantages reminiscent of medical insurance coverage. After which there’s the federal government’s curiosity in seeing these part-time aspect hustlers ultimately turning into extra conventional staff, as they turn out to be sources to gather payroll and different taxes.

All of it will seemingly increase the worth of supply companies. That’s not good for drained shoppers who don’t need to exit for a meal or groceries. Fundamental financial concept tells us that as costs go up, demand will drop. And as demand drops, there might be much less want for provide. This hurts supply drivers who might now be making fewer runs and incomes much less web pay total. 


The arrival of the app-based community firms was an enormous boon to our financial system’s effectivity. It allowed unused assets to seek out employment in ways in which we had by no means imagined. Authorities interference in the best way we function new economies undermines innovation, entrepreneurship, and productiveness. And all of this may be achieved by a easy stroke of a bureaucratic pen that redefines the character of labor. The definition of what constitutes alternate is finest left to the people who’re immediately concerned in these transactions.


A lot of my political science college students take into account authorities to be the place the place huge concepts of financial and social coverage are hashed out to create a greater world. I inform them that a lot of what authorities does is just defining issues in order to control them. This may be seen in the brand new Seattle ordinance. The 46-page (double-spaced) doc spends 9 pages (pages 4-13) merely defining numerous phrases which can be related to the ordinance, together with “baby,” “grocery retailer,” and “courting relationship.” Readers are inspired to view this doc to grasp how highly effective the power to outline issues is.

Anthony Gill

Anthony Gill

Anthony Gill is a professor of political financial system on the College of Washington and a Distinguished Senior Fellow with Baylor College’s Institute for the Examine of Faith.

Incomes his PhD in political science at UCLA in 1994, Prof. Gill specializes within the financial examine of faith and civil society.

He obtained the UW’s Distinguished Educating Award in 1999 and can be a member of the Mont Pelerin Society.

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