Is it Ethical to Order Delivery During a Pandemic?

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Maklad and delivery workers like him are at the vanguard of the “social distancing” practices that have arisen in recent weeks. As the new coronavirus continues to spread around the world, many Americans are adapting to what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says will be a “significant disruption” to their daily lives. More people are working from home, canceling big gatherings, and hunkering down for what could be weeks of isolation. For people in the delivery business, that means more requests to pick up groceries, acquire hand sanitizer in bulk, and brave a germ-filled world when people of means would rather not.
Orders on platforms like Instacart, Postmates, and DoorDash have surged in recent weeks as more folks shut out the outside world. On Monday, Amazon notified customers that Prime Now deliveries would take longer than usual because of the rising demand. As many other gig workers are facing decreasing requests for things like ride-sharing and dog-walking, the rush for delivery can mean good things for income. But it also raises an ethical question: Is it OK to hire someone to assume a risk you don’t want to?
The answer is more complicated than you might think. On the surface, it seems obvious to not do something that could compromise someone’s health, especially when officials are urging people to keep their distance. At the same time, independent contractors don’t get paid time off or sick days; not hiring them cuts into their livelihoods. Organizations like Gig Workers Rising have started petitions to pressure companies to offer more benefits to their workers, and over the weekend The Wall Street Journal reported many companies—including Instacart, Postmates, and DoorDash—were discussing ways to compensate gig workers. (WIRED confirmed Grubhub was also part of the discussions, but the company declined to elaborate.) Until they do, though, hiring gig workers is still an option for many people. It just requires being conscientious.“The fundamental problem with these independent contractors is that, in a moment like this, they have nothing to fall back on,” says Saru Jayaraman, director of the Food Labor Research Center at UC Berkeley. “If you don’t order, then that hurts workers.”

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For one, think about the health of the person you’re hiring, and what the risk levels are in your area. “At the end of the day, they’re on the frontlines in terms of exposure and risk,” says Lauren Casey, one of the lead organizers of Gig Workers Rising. A recent survey of 600 ride-share drivers found that while many (53 percent) were very concerned about reduced earnings during the Covid-19 outbreak, a significant number (43 percent) were also worried about contracting the coronavirus on the job. Also, the CDC estimates that 70 percent of food-borne illnesses—not just the coronavirus, but things like the flu—can be traced back to sick food service workers. When it comes to deliveries, services in the US are offering protections for customers like “contactless” drop-offs, where workers leave items for people to pick up. But that doesn’t necessarily protect the deliverer from anything they come in contact with along the way.