Uber has urged its employees in countries including the US and Europe to work from home where possible over the coronavirus pandemic.
A message was sent to staff on Thursday night saying the company now “strongly recommend” remote working for those whose roles allow it, Yahoo Finance UK can reveal.
It comes as the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a pandemic, and US president Donald Trump restricted travel from Europe to the US.
Uber said the decision was based on advice from its own consulting epidemiologist and guidance from public health authorities.
The recommendations apply to workers directly employed by Uber, rather than its drivers who are treated as self-employed.
The company is understood to be trying to provide drivers with disinfectants to protect them too. But supplies are said to be very limited, and will be targeted at the cities with greatest need.
Andrew Macdonald, senior vice-president for global rides and platform, told staff in an email to staff, seen by Yahoo Finance UK.
He wrote: “While we don’t have any confirmed cases among employees, we believe it’s our responsibility to follow the latest guidance from authorities and to help slow community spread so that health care systems can cope.”
The recommendations are aimed at employees in the US, Canada, all European countries, Japan and South Korea. Office meal provision has been suspended.
Staff in other locations are also allowed to work from home if their roles can be done remotely.
“It’s not lost on us that many of our employees can’t work from home due to the nature of their roles,” said Macdonald. He added that the company was also “accommodating” employees who had used up all their sick leave, without giving further details.
The announcement comes shortly after Uber also confirmed it “may temporarily suspend” the accounts of drivers and riders diagnosed with or exposed to COVID-19.
It said it would provide “financial assistance” for up to two weeks for such workers, including those asked to self-isolate by public health bodies.
The rights of self-employed workers have come under significant scrutiny in recent weeks. Some face a choice between losing their income for following official advice to self-isolate and risking others’ health by continuing to work.
The UK government promised on Wednesday to speed up access to the welfare system and loosen requirements for such workers entitled to benefits, but has faced calls to go further.
Uber has been embroiled in multiple disputes globally over its drivers’ status, including losing a UK employment tribunal case that found they should be classed as ‘workers.’ It is appealing the decision.
The company also announced a free insurance package for drivers in 2018, including coverage for lost earnings if they cannot work because of illness.