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As 16.8 million Americans have filed for unemployment aid in just the past three weeks, the gig economy has gone to the country’s forefront.
The leap in U.S. unemployment has thrown a spotlight on that one type of work in high demand during the coronavirus pandemic: gig work delivering groceries, meals and packages.
Some app-based delivery companies have announced hiring sprees to cope with a surge in online shopping.
Many gig jobs in delivery are relatively easy to get, often requiring little more than the ability to carry heavy loads, access to a bike or car and passing a background check. But they also come with the risk of exposure to the coronavirus, which has killed more than 22,000 in the U.S. Most such jobs come with little to no access to benefits like health insurance and paid sick leave.
Here are some things to know about applying for gig jobs during the pandemic.
Does taking a gig job disqualify you from applying for unemployment insurance?
Gig work does not automatically disqualify you from applying for unemployment insurance, said Jeremy Glenn, a labor and employment lawyer with Cozen O’Connor. Gig work will likely reduce the amount of weekly benefits you receive from your state, but you will still be eligible for $600 in extra weekly federal unemployment benefits under the pandemic relief act, known as CARES, Glenn said.
Whether it makes sense to supplement unemployment benefits with gig work depends. People must decide for themselves whether the extra pay is worth the risk of exposure to the virus. They may need child care. Because gig workers don’t get hourly wages, it could be difficult to calculate whether it makes sense financially to give up the full amount of weekly state benefits.
What protections from the virus are gig workers getting?
Most delivery apps have introduced “contactless delivery,” although the decision is generally up to the customer, not the worker.
Some companies are working to supply delivery workers with gloves, sanitizer and masks. But many workers have yet to receive protective equipment amid supply constraints.
Most companies are temporarily offering 14 days of financial assistance for workers who are diagnosed with coronavirus or are placed in quarantine by health authorities.
Have the jobs become more difficult during the pandemic?
Yes, especially for gig shoppers. Workers must stand in long lines to enter many stores because of distancing rules. Panic shopping and higher demand has sometimes cleared shelves of essentials, making it almost impossible for shoppers to meet efficiency goals for speed and order accuracy.
Some companies have temporarily eased their performance standards for workers.
Who is hiring delivery workers?
The biggest hiring companies? Delivery services for groceries and other essentials are the way to go.
Restaurant delivery apps are not hiring as quickly, with many of their small business partners struggling under shutdown orders.
Is gig work paying more during a pandemic?
Some delivery work has become more lucrative because of a rise in orders and bigger tips.
Most app-based companies, however, are not directly boosting pay for their workers.
Those considering gig work should do their research. Does the company offer a guaranteed minimum per order? Does that guaranteed minimum include tips? Does the app default to a certain tip percentage?
Payment systems are also subject to change, often without warning for workers.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.