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California Labor Law Issues During Coronavirus Crisis

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California Labor Law issues stemming from the coronavirus crisis include Uber drivers asking to be classified as employees and a proposed class action alleges Zoom Video Communications failed to protect users’ personal information.

Santa Clara, CA California labor law issues connected with the coronavirus are emerging. Uber and its drivers have continuously fought over misclassification and countless lawsuits have been filed against Uber over whether its drivers are employees or independent contractors. Now Uber drivers are ramping up their case. And Zoom Video Communications is accused of failing to protect users’ personal information.


Uber’s Temporary Pandemic-Specific Policy

At the beginning of April, Uber drivers urged a California judge to issue an emergency order to require them employees during the coronavirus crisis, arguing that classifying drivers as independent contractors may cause infected drivers to keep working and potentially spread COVID-19.

Uber's COVID-19 sick leave benefit for drivers is more stringent than the protections afforded to employees under the California labor code, said the company, and reported by Law360 (April 1). The drivers’ counsel argues that it requires documentation of a COVID-19 diagnosis from a physician or a personal order to quarantine, and “There is a substantial risk to the public at large,” said attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan. She pointed out that many California Uber drivers live “hand to mouth, day to day” and those drivers who cannot obtain a doctor’s note “will continue working” despite exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms… causing irreparable harm to themselves and the public.”

Not only will a driver lose work—likely several hours—trying to get a doctor’s note, anyone who does not have COVID-19 symptoms has been cautioned about visiting a health care facility. Doctors are already busy enough without having to write a note. (Note to Uber: drivers are not in elementary school. ) U.S. District Judge Edward Chen seemed to agree, saying that “getting a doctor’s note may be problematic for folks” and suggested that Uber consider a self-certification process for those who can’t gain access to a doctor.

Uber argues that its drivers won’t benefit more from California’s sick leave law for employees. Uber’s COVID-19 sick pay policy, along with the federal government’s newly adopted Families First Coronavirus Response Act and CARES Act, provides more for drivers than California state law, which provides employees with three paid days of sick leave without requiring documentation.

Since the pandemic began and as of April 1, Uber has paid out 1,400 sick leave claims to drivers nationwide, at about $900 per claim, Uber’s attorney Theane Evangelis told Law360.

Judge Chen instructed Uber and Uber drivers to try to come up with an interim, pandemic-specific policy that would allow drivers to take paid sick leave without documentation from a physician or a personal order to quarantine. “Wouldn’t that be a practical solution?” the judge quipped, and gave the parties a few more days to reach a temporary, “pandemic-specific” policy.

Zoom Privacy Proposed Class Action Lawsuit

The wildly popular Zoom videoconferencing app has come out ahead during this crisis as web conferencing is booming now that millions of people are working and socializing from home. In fact Zoom Video has become a top performing stock on the NASDAQ this year, according to Forbes. But whether the company can stay on top is uncertain.

On March 31, Reuters reported that Zoom was slammed with a proposed class action lawsuit accusing it of handing unwitting users’ personal information to social media company Facebook Inc. California resident Robert Cullen filed the lawsuit against San Jose-based Zoom Video Communications Inc, in the Northern District of California federal court.

Cullen’s lawsuit claims that Zoom violated California’s Unfair Competition Law, Consumers Legal Remedies Act and Consumer Privacy Act by collecting and disclosing personal information to third parties such as Facebook “upon installing or upon each opening of the Zoom app.” According to the complaint, Zoom released a new version of the app on March 27 but it neither blocked previous versions of the app, nor assured users that information already collected has been deleted.

This is how it works (or did work): Zoom's software reports to Facebook whenever a Zoom user logs on for a conference call. After a user logs on, Zoom gives Facebook the person's customer information, including what device a person uses to access Zoom, the device's model and the device's unique advertising identifier. 

Plaintiffs claim that, because of this unique advertising identifier, companies can target the user with advertisements, and this information is sent to Facebook by Zoom regardless of whether the user has an account with Facebook.

The Zoom Privacy Class Action Lawsuit is Cullen v. Zoom Video Communications Inc., Case No. 5:20-cv-02155, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.


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