In light of the spread of coronavirus, people in cities across the country are being instructed to work from home, practice social distancing, and avoid the few large gatherings that haven’t already been canceled. For a lot of people, self-isolation and more time at home than usual means one thing: food delivery. In recent days, several major food and grocery delivery companies including Postmates, Instacart, and Doordash have announced “no contact” or “drop-off” delivery options, which are exactly what they sound like.
The idea behind “no-contact” delivery options is to minimize contact between the person delivering the food and the customer who has ordered the food by providing the option for the delivery person to leave the food at the customer’s door instead of delivering it into their hands. Although ostensibly the surge in the selection of this option is due to the customer’s worry of being exposed to coronavirus by their delivery person, some food delivery workers have also expressed concerns about coming into contact with sick customers. This week, Instacart, DoorDash, and Postmates have each announced new sick leave policies intended to help compensate workers who are diagnosed with coronavirus, but only Instacart’s policy extends to sick pay for non-coronavirus illnesses.
I’d like to take a step back here implore everyone to take another look at the reasoning behind this dystopic phenomenon. As an anxious person with an immunocompromised family member, I completely understand the current desire to protect ourselves, as well as the anxiety over becoming a carrier or somehow unintentionally exposing others to coronavirus. In fact, the desire to self-isolate and reduce any contact with the outside world can be a smart and responsible choice for people who are especially vulnerable to coronavirus (or who come in contact with people who are especially vulnerable).
However, many of the people who have the luxury of working from home, self-quarantining, and ordering a bunch of food on delivery apps are not actually the most vulnerable to contracting this illness. And, by sending another person—specifically an underpaid contract worker without benefits—into the world in place of ourselves, what are we saying about how we as a society value their health and well-being (and those of the people around them) versus how we value our own?
Earlier this week a friend of mine went to Whole Foods, and she was one of the only people shopping there that wasn’t working for Instacart. Many of the people working for food delivery services are part of the gig economy—which in this case, means that they often make very little money and receive no sick leave or health benefits through the companies they work for, despite the fact that their job puts them at a higher risk of coming into contact with the virus than the average person. These workers don’t have the option of working from home since the nature of their job requires that they travel, and they can’t help but come in contact with a number of people during the course of their day.
Across the board, marginalized populations such as the poor and the elderly often face a higher risk of contracting and spreading coronavirus. If you’re barely scraping rent together every month, how can you afford to stop working, even when there is a pandemic? Although coronavirus hasn’t caused these fundamental economic issues, it has revealed the ways that the lack of a social safety net puts all of us at risk—but especially low-income workers.
I’m sure many people working for food delivery services wish that they could self-isolate to protect themselves and their loved ones, but they don’t have PTO—if they don’t work they don’t get paid. So what if instead of searching for methods to accommodate the needs of customers who are worried about being exposed to coronavirus through food delivery, we turned our attention towards the system that gives these workers no choice but to keep working through a pandemic?
This post has been updated to reflect the sick leave policies of some delivery companies.