Seattle will provide paid sick and safe leave for most gig workers under a new law, becoming the first U.S. city to guarantee such benefits on a permanent basis for app-based employees.
Workers who perform tasks for companies like Instacart, Postmates and DoorDash will accrue a day of paid sick leave for every 30 days they do work in Seattle. While on leave, workers will receive pay based on their average daily compensation.
The law permanently enshrines a temporary measure that mandated paid sick and safe leave for some food delivery workers in Seattle during the pandemic, when many customers stuck at home came to depend on delivery services. That measure was set to expire on May 1.
"A healthy workforce leads to a healthy community, and no one should have to choose between taking a sick day to care for themselves -- or their families -- and making rent," Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said in a statement.
"Gig workers stepped up to serve our city during the pandemic and are an essential part of our workforce and economy, and this important legislation ensures the rights of our app-based workers remain protected," Harrell added.
The new law expands the type of workers covered from food delivery employees to those working for a slew of apps covering a range of "on-demand" tasks. Gig workers who set their own pay will not be covered.
App-based drivers for Uber and Lyft are already guaranteed paid sick days under state law, according to a press release from the mayor's office.
Workers protected by the law will be allowed to take time off to care for their own health or that of a loved one, go to a doctor's appointment or pick up a child in the event of a school closure, among other activities, the mayor's office said.
The legislation marks the latest advance for gig workers as some city, state and federal officials push for some app-based workers to either be classified as employees or receive benefits akin to those that companies must offer part-time or full-time staff.
In a statement, Instacart said it is open to collaboration with lawmakers on enhanced worker protections but that the new law could lead to higher prices for its customers.
"Instacart is committed to providing shoppers what they need to earn on their terms, and we continue to make shopper health and safety a top priority," the company said. "Instacart is willing to work with any policymaker that prioritizes the health and safety of shoppers who choose to earn income through our platform."
"However, at a time of high inflation and tightening household budgets, it is critical that policymakers also take into account the rising financial burden their misguided policy proposals could have on their constituents," the company added.
In 2022, the Biden administration proposed a rule change that would make it easier for gig workers to be classified as employees, giving them access to minimum wage protections and other benefits.
Meanwhile, over the past five years, legislators in nine states have proposed laws that would guarantee portable benefits for gig workers that would travel with them from one app-based company to the next, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
At the outset of 2020, California implemented a measure called Assembly Bill 5, which eased the standards used for classifying gig workers as full-time employees, affecting at least one million workers.
Months later, a state referendum approved by California voters excluded Uber and Lyft workers from the new standards, returning them to the category of independent contractors.
In Seattle, gig worker advocates celebrated the new legislation guaranteeing paid sick and safe days.
"The gig economy is booming thanks to workers," Danielle Alvarado, the executive director of the nonprofit Working Washington, said in a statement.
"We are proud that Seattle has recognized the importance of making sure gig workers can stay home when they are sick or need to take care of a loved one," Alvarado added. "When gig workers are protected, we all are."