US drivers for Uber and Lyft are being suspended for weeks because the coronavirus crisis has stalled the court system needed for background checks.
As well as criminal checks when a person first signs up, large gig economy companies typically carry out an annual check on their workers, as well as monitor local arrest records.
But this year, the third party company used by Uber and Lyft said the closure of courthouses because of the pandemic had led to “unavoidable delays in processing some background checks”.
On its website, Checkr lists more than 800 local courthouses across the US that have suffered shutdowns of varying severity since the start of the pandemic.
“Checkr has been continuously monitoring court closures and reopenings, so pending background checks can be completed as courts reopen,” the company added.
Daniel Mirea, who has driven for Lyft in Chicago for two years, said he was locked out of his account a month ago and did not know when he would be able to restart work.
In the meantime, he said he felt taunted by notifications from the Lyft app of special bonuses for drivers who were willing to work through the crisis. “It’s unbelievable,” he said. “It’s like they’re making fun of me for what’s happening.”
Gig economy companies are wary of allowing workers without valid background checks to operate, fearing repercussions over accidents or other incidents.
Lyft said it had suspended access for drivers awaiting the renewal of their background checks. “Wherever possible, we are working with state regulators and Checkr to address these issues, so that annual background checks can be completed and drivers can get back on the road,” said Lyft.
“Our priorities are the health and safety of our platform and ensuring drivers have flexible earnings opportunities — and both have never been more important than right now,” it added.
Uber said: “We’ve worked with state and local governments and our third-party background check provider to minimise disruptions for drivers and delivery people during this challenging time.”
Neither company gave an estimate as to how many workers may have been affected.
“For months these companies have made it difficult for drivers to access unemployment insurance,” said Lauren Casey, of Gig Workers Rising, an advocacy group calling for employment benefits for gig workers. “And now at a time when many are left with no choice but to get back on the road, this roadblock is another kick in the teeth for frontline workers.”